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Trip Reports
02-21-2007, 08:54 PM
WDW — September 2006 (CSR) by Kelly O'Connor

Kelly and her partner spend 10 days at Disney World and meet some friends along the way.


Kelly O'Connor -- September 2006 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Who:

Kelly – me, 35, Southern California native, Disneyland annual passholder and former cast member, 5th trip

Bill – my partner, a young 41, native Floridian now California transplant since the 80s, 3rd trip with me but countless visits with family up until a few years after the opening of Epcot when he moved to the West Coast

Guest appearances by:

Noreen - fellow trip report writer and Disney fan from New Jersey

Susan and Scott - a couple we met at Disneyland that happen to have some overlapping dates of vacation at WDW with us

When:

September 22-October 1, 2006

Planning:
Once again, Disney decided to offer the Free Dining plan for trips in August and September of this year, which is the same deal that prompted us to take our trip in 2005. Ironically, I had told myself after last year’s trip that although the Dining Plan is a great feature, whether free or not, it made the vacation a little bit more stressful because we had to schedule our meals far in advance and had to be at certain parks at meal times that weren’t necessarily convenient. Apparently it wasn’t enough reason to keep me away because as soon as I found out the deal was back for 2006, I immediately thought, how can we not do this? I forwarded the information to Bill at his work, and he replied, “So when are we leaving?” This was far back in April, so there would be five months to plan this trip.

In choosing my dates, I tried to pick a time when not too many special events would be occurring, in the hopes of there being smaller crowds in the parks. I knew I didn’t want to attempt August – it’s a bad enough month weather-wise in California, and there’d be no way I’d want to have similar heat plus Florida humidity, so that meant September. Still not a cool month in Orlando by any means, but hopefully a tad more bearable. Steering clear of the Tom Joyner Family Reunion and seeing no cheerleading competitions, New Jersey school holidays or major Brazilian holidays on the horizon, I chose September 22-30. I was willing to try a value resort for the first time (in this case Pop Century) but Bill quickly vetoed that idea and demanded at least a moderate. We stayed at Caribbean Beach in 2003 and French Quarter in 2005, so I chose Coronado Springs for this trip. Originally, I chose regular Park Hopper tickets but later upgraded adding the Water Parks and More option. We hadn’t been to Typhoon Lagoon since 2003 and I wanted to see the new water coasters, plus Blizzard Beach had been closed in 2003 so it was going to be new to us. Not to mention, we wanted to make sure to visit the Comedy Warehouse at Pleasure Island this year because we have a friend of a friend type connection to one of the performers there. Also, with the rumors of Disney Quest closing in the near future, I wanted to make sure to see it one last time.

Our last two WDW trips have been 9 nights and 7 nights respectively. The 9 nights felt a little long, whereas the 7 nights felt too short, so I went with 8 nights this time. We had been to Islands of Adventure together in 2003, but not Universal Studios, so I wanted to see that this time plus take Bill to see Busch Gardens, so for the first two nights I decided we would stay off property, and then move to Disney on Sunday the 24th and stay there for the duration.

For the first two nights, I researched every possible place in the Orlando vicinity that sounded nice – complete overkill on my part. I wanted a room with a separate bedroom and living room because Bill generally wakes up much earlier than me and I didn’t want him to have to feel like he couldn’t move or make noise until I wake up. It’s also a big bonus to have an in-room Jacuzzi for Bill to enjoy because of his nerve pain that is at it’s worst after a day of sitting in his wheelchair. That narrowed things down to a timeshare unit. Renting DVC points was ridiculously expensive, but I am able to get Friends and Family rates at Marriott properties when they are available which are pretty reasonable. There were a few of those open such as Royal Palms, Cypress Harbour and Grande Vista, as well as the two Hilton timeshares in town, all at fairly good prices, so now it was a matter of choosing the nicest property. Lastly, I looked into both Vistana and Polynesian Isles after reading favorable remarks about them in other people’s trip reports. This all took place over the course of the 5 months. In the end, I ended up booking the Embassy Suites on International Drive – not a timeshare unit at all. It had the separate rooms I wanted, was about $30/night cheaper than the Marriott timeshare rate, and included a full hot breakfast as a bonus. However, we now lost the in-room Jacuzzi as well as the free washer and dryer. Well, a week or so before the trip started, I asked Bill if he would prefer the Embassy or the Hilton Grand Vacations Club 1 bedroom unit, and he said the Hilton without even a flinch. I cancelled Embassy and booked the HGV at about $45 per night more, but it’ll be worth it. This way we get to see what a timeshare unit is like without sitting through the pressurized sales pitch. As far as Marriott, my friend had lost his job with the Company about a month before our trip, eliminating the possibility of a discount there, and the Hilton’s regular rate was quite a bit below that of Marriott.

About two months before the trip, Bill got a call from Delta saying that our itinerary had been altered a bit. The flight to Orlando had been bumped up by about 30 minutes which, since we were taking a red eye, was fine. It just meant we would get to Orlando that much earlier. As far as the return home, Delta cancelled evening flights from MCO-LAX on Saturday evenings altogether, so that left us the option of the morning flight on the same day (9/30) or waiting until the next day to leave. The agent told Bill that the morning flight on 9/30 was sold out, so we were then forced to stay in Orlando an extra night. What a terrible fate to be dealt. We then had our choice of morning or evening flights on Sunday 10/1 and chose the evening one, so we now had basically one full extra day of vacation.

I emailed my travel agent, Pam Schuck from Mouse Ear Vacations (pams@cruisingco.com), about adding one more night at Coronado Springs. Although we both prefer to book ourselves online, the Free Dining package wasn’t originally available online, which is why I chose to use a travel agent at all. We missed the ability to make changes ourselves, but Pam did an excellent job with all of our requests and I would highly recommend her. Anyway, I told Pam that the last night was now only $99 on a current Disney promotion, but she replied that we would be better off booking it at rack rate of $144 because it would still include another day of Free Dining, and there would be no chance that we would have to check out and back in and possibly change rooms for that last night. That seemed like a good idea so I took it. Last but not least, I needed to add one more day of admission to our Park Hoppers, which was only $4.24 extra. The Magic Your Way system really does encourage you to stay on property more nights – look how cheap the park tickets get after 8 days!

With most items taken care of, there was a period of 2 months of basically just waiting. Of course, when you have spare time, you try to embellish your plans a little and I made some changes and additions to the Dining Reservations but pretty much laid low until a few weeks before the trip.

What I had been dreading most was the logistics. This would be the first time we would bring Bill’s ECV onboard the plane and to the Parks, and it was iffy wondering if Delta would be able to accommodate it properly and safely, whether bringing the large, bulky ramps would be a problem, and whether our rental minivan on the other end would have enough space to accommodate the chair without breaking it down. I worried and worried and gave myself neck pains just from overthinking everything, but finally our deparature date arrived and there was no more worrying I could do. With that said, here’s what happened!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I worked a regular day at work until 5pm, which now that I’m trying a 9/80 work schedule, was 20 minutes shy of the full nine hours I was supposed to be there that day. Bill had taken the day off and driven from home to pick me up and he arrived early, so I didn’t want to keep him waiting downstairs too long.

Right away, we hit the freeway toward LAX. Traffic was not too unbearable and I think we arrived in just a little over an hour. I had looked up some parking places online that offered discount coupons and tried to find them. Bill wanted me to use LAX’s own lots but I was trying to save money. I went ahead and filled our truck with gas so that it would be full when we returned home. I then dropped Bill off at the Delta gate with his wheelchair to avoid the possibility of a shuttle bus from a remote lot not being able to accommodate him. I went off in search of parking and did end up choosing LAX’s own remote lot B. It was only $2/day more than the independent companies and I felt they would have more reliable shuttle service. This proved to be a huge mistake but that will come at the end of the report. I parked and got on a shuttle and was back at the airport quickly.

We had a good 3 hour wait ahead of us, so we relaxed, found a plug and connected the laptop. I chatted with a few friends thru AIM and Bill surfed and worked a bit as well. There was a small version of California Pizza Kitchen in the terminal, so we went there for a light dinner. We shared a garlic chicken pizza, white chocolate macadamia nut cookie, and a cup of smashed pea soup. It was all pretty good for airport food.

We had brought the ECV up to the gate after hearing that most people have a better chance of their chairs not being damaged by gate-checking rather than baggage checking them. This way, Bill could remain in the chair the whole time. We boarded first and were put in a row towards the front of the plane that has the lavatory right behind it, which meant the seats barely reclined. Wasn’t too happy about that. Also, the lavatory door kept getting stuck on the track and was difficult to close, so every time someone used the facilities, they left the door open, leaving us to smell the noxious fumes! The flight was completely full, which I couldn’t believe for a red eye – that was part of the reason we chose the red eye, in hopes of being able to stretch out. Not so on this trip. The crew was all very helpful and polite in getting Bill to his seat. We brought his ECV right up to the plane where they moved him onto a chair outfitted especially to navigate the narrow aisle of the airplane. It probably wasn’t funny to Bill, but I found it hysterical how they strapped him into this contraption from head to toe just to move him no more than twenty feet. He did arrive to his seat safely though, I’ll give them that. We were both pleased and impressed at the way Delta handled Bill’s handicap.

A lady traveling by herself ended up in the window seat of our row. We chatted briefly with her before taking off and found out that she was a very successful businesswoman who lived in Ocala, FL but commuted back and forth and also rented a house in Calabasas, CA, which is right next door to Woodland Hills where I grew up. Small world. Hearing the difference between her mortgage in Ocala and her rental rate in Calabasas reminded me how ridiculous it is to live in California. Anyway, she was obviously well medicated – in a good way – to help her sleep for the entire flight. She was a little loopy in speech and I asked what she had taken - I think she said a Zanex. Muscle relaxers and tranquilizers are so commonplace nowadays, it’s just like candy. Pretty funny, since Bill replied that he had an Ativan with him in case her Zanex wasn’t strong enough! She then warned me that she tends to fall asleep against whomever she is flying next to and I shouldn’t be surprised if it happens. She then fell asleep and didn’t wake up once until we had parked at the gate in Orlando. I was so jealous, and wished I had the ability to relax like that in an uncomfortable seat.

We were all set to depart right on time when the announcement came: a family with an autistic child had chosen to get off the plane and stay in CA because the child began freaking out at the enclosed space. No big deal, I thought, maybe they had never traveled with the kid before and didn’t know how he would react. Little did we realize that whenever someone willingly chooses to get off a plane, it is required by law that the airline return their luggage to them. With almost 200 passengers onboard, this meant the ground crew had to crawl in the plane and search every piece of luggage and retrieve everything this family had brought! It was a nightmare. It’s already well past my bedtime, and I can’t fall asleep until we are in the air on our way, so we were just miserable. Finally, about 90 minutes late, we took off and had a good flight.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This morning started with our plane arriving into Orlando, finally, around 8am. We waited for the wheelchair to be brought up from within the plane which didn’t take too long. The foot section of the chair had been adjusted in shipment, so we had a small issue of getting it fixed so that Bill’s feet wouldn’t scrape the ground. Delta was kind enough to call a mechanic over to do what he could and even though it was now different than normal, it was good enough for us to continue on. The important part was that the chair arrived intact! I felt a partial release of the proverbial weight off my shoulders.

We made it to Baggage Claim after everyone else had left and found both the suitcase and wheelchair ramps waiting for us off to the side. Whew. Bill had to get outside ASAP after not having had a cigarette in 9 hours, and I saw the Thrifty courtesy shuttle right there. Bill was originally going to wait at the airport while I got the van and came back for him, but the Thrifty folks were more than happy to load his chair into their bus. That done, we made it to Thrifty’s facilities. I had booked both a minivan and a “standard van” and the desk associate informed me that I could get away with the minivan, but for about $25 more for the 10 day duration for the cost of the vans with the Stow-and-Go feature. Those of you traveling with wheelchairs: this is an indispensable feature of Dodge and Chrysler minivans. Ask for it!

We got on the road towards International Drive to find the Hilton Grand Vacations Club, and right away I saw Tradeport Dr. as an exit. I vaguely remembered this being the exit for Mouse Surplus, so I pulled off thinking it might be right off the Beeline. 4 miles later, the addresses weren’t matching up, even with Bill using his PDA to find and map the address, so I got back on the Beeline. I was frustrated because I thought it was supposed to be really easy freeway access. I’ll look into it later in our trip – perhaps it’s close to some other freeway.

After a little searching up and down International Drive, I finally found our timeshare. I was able to check in at 9:30am with no problems. Everything was in order and the one bedroom unit was better than expected. I had gone to the DVC presentation of Saratoga Springs at the Boardwalk back in 2003, but I honestly don’t remember those one bedrooms being this big. It’s really nice and spacious. When you first walk in, the kitchen is on your left with the main living room straight ahead. To the right is a closet with stackable washer and dryer followed by a very large bathroom with shower, which is connected to the bedroom which has a separate Jacuzzi tub. It is not a round tub like a traditional spa would be, but a very large rectangular shape that easily holds two people sitting side by side. Off the living room is a screened-in porch with it’s own ceiling fan. I liked the fact that it was screened in for bug protection, but at the same time it felt a little claustrophobic as well, since the view outside was skewed by the screen. We were on the ground floor with a view of the lake that sits in the center of the property which was perfect, and we were only about a 2 minute walk to one of the pool complexes.

We unpacked a little and got out the essentials and let the wheelchair charge for a little while. Right away, a phone call came inviting us to take part in their timeshare presentation, which we declined. There was no way we could devote a block of time like that when we had just arrived for vacation! We both showered and then I wanted to get a move-on to Universal since they were only open until 6:00.

We got to Universal easily and parked. It was hard to pay $10 to park when it’s always been free for us at WDW. I was really enjoying how easy it was to load and unload the wheelchair from the van as compared to the SUV at home. We made it to the front gates and found the window for pre-purchased tickets. It was extremely easy; you simply slide the credit card you used to buy the tickets followed by the confirmation number given to you via email, and the tickets pop right out. Love the system.

This was our first time at Universal Studios, at least in Orlando. All in all, a rather mediocre reaction I’m feeling right now at almost midnight. I’ve grown up with the Hollywood park since 1971, and I’ll agree that Orlando has many more rides and shows, but the whole feeling of the place was just sterile. Not many shade trees, not much immersive atmosphere and I felt a lot like I was at MGM, DCA or Disney Studios Paris. In other words, too many sound stages and bland buildings, not enough fantasy. Then again, it’s supposed to represent the backlot of a working studio, so in that respect, it’s dressed up nicely.

Anyway, there were still many attractions I wanted to hit simply because it was our first time. It was already noon so we were hurrying through the park. We started with the E.T. Adventure, which was great. I had mourned the loss of this ride in Hollywood and was very glad to see it still operating, and with decent sized crowds, in this park. They had a very cool ride vehicle that was able to accommodate Bill right in his wheelchair, so he barely had to move. Considering we had been up all night and his medication schedule was now off, he was in a lot of pain so anything the parks could do to help was very welcomed. Overall, I think there were some maintenance issues on E.T. but it was still enjoyable. I had been disappointed when I rode the Hollywood version before it closed and found many things not working or burnt out and unfortunately I felt the same way this time.

We then looked in the Curious George kid’s area which was cute. I ran through a couple of the squirting fountains to cool off, as it was hovering around 94 degrees and 80% humidity. Like the rest of the park, this area was almost deserted – it was clear that the off season had arrived at Universal, a blessing for us!

Next up was Back to the Future. Yes, I’ve been on it many times in Hollywood but I knew it was about to close forever so I wanted to bid farewell. As great as it was when new, I think it’s time. The film was blurry, and the whole experience made me slightly nauseous. I do love the movie and music, though – so I guess it’ll be OK with me that it’s no longer a ride in the near future.

After that, we were so hot and really wanted a frozen lemonade but kept seeing the icky Icee stands instead of the Minute Maid ones. We held out a bit more and went into the MIB – Alien Attack attraction. I knew it was some sort of shoot-em-up ride and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. I liked the exterior and interior queues and décor a lot – very reminiscent of the movie. The ride itself was pretty good, but like with Buzz Lightyear, I’m not that thrilled with rides where I aim at targets to win points. There were several architectural choices I noticed that reminded me of 70’s Tomorrowland which I found very cool.

Still not finding the lemonade, we entered Amity and I wanted to ride Jaws but Bill was afraid it would give him bad dreams. Instead, we split a Slaw Dog and fries at the Nathan’s hot dog stand (cole slaw and cheese sauce) and a root beer. Prices were pretty high, and I was glad that all Universal locations take AAA for a small discount. The hot dog bun was HUGE – I thought we were getting a great deal until I gazed a little closer at the tiny little dog that was buried in this huge bed of bread.

I then went on Jaws while Bill wandered around shops and restaurants. This was the longest wait of the day at about 20 minutes – nice to see from one of the older rides. Jaws was a big improvement over the tiny segment of the Tram Tour that it occupies in Hollywood. Good repeat value, and I was sorry that Bill missed it.

When we met up again, we looked at the menu of the nearby Lombard restaurant and took some pictures inside it. We didn’t want to spoil dinner by getting anything at this time, so we just split a vanilla crepe at the connecting bakery. They were well stocked with delicious-looking choices and they were a lot different than typical Disney fare which was nice to see. The poor employee working the location was so bored, I think we were her first customer of the day.

Earthquake was next, which we both enjoyed, but as was becoming tiresome by this point, too many of the Universal attractions use that tired, predictable pattern of film, walk into next room, film, and then short sit down ride. Sometimes, they throw volunteers into the mix. I’m just over that formula - I want seamless attractions that don’t make you walk all over the place and wear yourself down standing and trying to pay attention to a film when you’ve just been pounding the pavement in 94 degree heat.

We were running out of time and I still wanted to get to Islands of Adventure briefly, so we went over to the Mummy. It was closed due to technical difficulties. Okay, so we tried Twister instead in the same neighborhood. Really enjoyed this one. I didn’t realize we would get so wet from the fire hydrant that gets knocked over, and it literally drenched Bill in his wheelchair. I tried my best to cover him up but we were still pretty wet and I was told that revenge would be Bill’s soon. It was worth it – with the heat, we were dry within minutes.

I checked the Mummy again and it was still closed, so I then asked Bill if he wanted to see the Beetlejuice show or head to IOA, and he said IOA. I don’t think he understood that it was a rock and roll song and dance revue, but that’s ok, I’ll try to catch it on a later day.

We headed over towards Islands of Adventure and since Bill was not allowed to bring a lighter onboard the flight, he was without a way to light a cigarette. I ran in the Hard Rock Café to see if they had any matches, but the bars are smoke free so of course there were none. He said no problem, so went entered IOA and went in their large gift shop. Sure enough, they sell lighters with the Universal logo on them, but they are hidden behind the counter.

That taken care of, we just wanted to go on a few of our favorite rides before the park closed. The passes that we had purchased were an online deal where you get 7 consecutive days of park hopper admission to both parks. We both wanted to spend most of our time at Disney, so we were trying to squeeze Universal all into one day. What I really wanted was a one-day park hopper ticket but they didn’t offer that option, which was disappointing. Obviously, just like Disney, the Universal folks want you to stay on property as long as possible.

I didn’t take notes on IOA at the time, but I know we made one full loop of the park walking clockwise. We rode the Hulk first, then I rode Ripsaw Falls by myself while Bill got a frozen drink. After that, we walked through the Jurassic Park section. I saw that the Pteranadon Flyers were running and they looked fun, so we went over there and discovered that they are for kids only. What a waste! The concept is great, and adults can’t even ride them. Oh well. We continued on to the Lost Continent, but didn’t feel that we had enough time to ride Dueling Dragons. In fact, we really needed to get going because we had dinner reservations at 6:00. We kept walking, passing the lovely Mythos restaurant which had already closed for the evening, and finally Seuss Landing. It was clear that we ran out of time, so I mentioned that we might have to come back on another day and finish this park.

Our reservation was at Mamma Della’s at the Portofino Hotel, so we took the water taxi over. The wait for the taxi was quite long and in the hot sun which was not pleasant, but we finally made it to the hotel at 5:50. We went into Mamma Della’s and gave my name. My cousin had recommended that we try this restaurant on our first trip in 2003, but when we tried to have lunch there, we found that it was only open for dinner. It turned out to be well worth the wait. It was heavenly cold inside the restaurant and they only had a few people seated so we got our table right away. Everyone there was very professional and courteous. We were meeting Noreen Chin, someone who I had been corresponding with via email for many months who also loves Disney and writes trip reports on MousePlanet. I always enjoy reading her reports when they are published, and it turned out we had a lot in common with our interests. Coincidentally, she was going to be in town on some of the same dates as us before she left on a Disney cruise, so it turned out to be a good opportunity for us to meet in person.

Noreen came in a few minutes after us and we exchanged hellos and hugs. It was so nice to finally meet her. We had a nice conversation on many different subjects while waiting for our food. It was like talking to an old friend because we already knew a lot about eachother from our emails.

Our server came and introduced herself and told us about the specials for the evening. One of them was vegetarian, and since Noreen is a vegetarian, it worked out perfectly. It also sounded great to me so I ordered the same thing. The other special was a meat and seafood dish which sounded great to Bill – so we all ordered specials. Bill got an iced tea and Noreen a soda.

The meal started with a plate of three mushroom-stuffed pot stickers. We did not ask for this but they came as a complimentary starter, which was nice. We also received a bread basket with butter and a plate of oil with roasted whole pieces of garlic. Delicious.

Bill’s special was a sirloin steak stuffed with crab on top of risotto with green and red peppers, all covered with cream sauce, along with three tiger shrimp. Bell peppers tend to upset Bill’s stomach, so he left those out and ordered it with only red peppers. The presentation was beautiful, and Bill loved the dish.

Noreen and I ordered the risotto special, which was a plate of risotto with mushrooms, green peas and parmesan cheese. It sounds simple, but it was really excellent. I had also ordered a cup of Italian Wedding soup, one of my favorite soups, so the server offered that I could order only an appetizer sized portion of the risotto, which I did. When the food arrived, my risotto was the same size as Noreen’s, which was fine with me.

For dessert, I was completely stuffed but Bill ordered a chocolate cake filled with hot melted fudge in the center and vanilla bean ice cream on top. The plate also had dots of strawberry sauce along the edges. The receipt calls it the Cioccolato Budino. Again, perfect presentation. Noreen ordered the white chocolate praline, otherwise known as the Choc Pranilato. This looked like cheesecake with a scoop of raspberry sherbet next to it and brandied cherries in sauce with a twirly cookie. I sampled both desserts and everything was delicious.

During our meal, the resident singer of the restaurant came to visit us. She was a sweet Italian woman who had already performed a couple songs that my grandmother used to sing and teach to me when I was little, so I made sure to tell her how much I appreciated that, and felt like my grandma was right there with us in spirit. She seemed very touched by that, and began to chat some more. I told her a little bit about my grandma, what part of Italy she was from, and that she had been on the Groucho Marx game show in the 50s as a contestant. She knew the show and thought that was so cool. She asked us what song we would like to hear but since she had already done my favorites, I let her decide. It was a very heartfelt ballad in Italian and was lovely. The whole interaction was wonderful and made a nice addition to an already great restaurant.

We finished off with a coffee for Noreen and a Cappuccino with Baileys for Bill. The entire bill with tip came to 141.70. It was a little extravagant for our first night of vacation, but well worth it and we would gladly return to this restaurant.

After dinner, it was still fairly early so we decided to explore the hotel a little bit further. We started by going to the gift shop. It was a typical hotel shop with knick knacks and a few nice collectibles. Noreen and I then decided we would like to see the pool area. I always like to be nosey at hotels and see what they have to offer and was glad to find someone else who enjoyed the same thing. Bill is not quite as adventurous and gets nervous or embarrassed about being in places that he assumes he’s not welcome in. So, without a second thought we left Bill to smoke along the shore while we checked out the pool. It’s far removed from the restaurant area, but we finally found it and it was very nice. It had a zero entry pool with rock formations and fountains, and was still being used at night. I took some pictures and we headed back to meet Bill. We parted ways with Noreen since she had parked at the hotel and we needed to get back on the water taxi. We planned to be in contact on Sunday in case there was time for us to meet up in the Magic Kingdom before Noreen and her friend Cathy left for the cruise portion of their trip.

Once we got back to our van, we stopped at Publix, which is right across the street from the Hilton – so convenient – to get some bottled water, a six pack of coke, some Orange Juice and a few other essentials. As long as we had a full sized kitchen, it made sense to get some drinks and freeze the waters to use at the Parks. Bill also brought back his leftovers from Mamma Della’s to be eaten later. We were exhausted, but definitely wanted to use the pool area, so we walked over and got in the Jacuzzi. This was a nice one – very large, hot and the jets were extremely strong which felt great after a day of walking in the heat. I tried the pool briefly but Bill stayed in the spa. By this time, the pool area was getting ready to close so we headed back to the room and crashed.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Today was our day to drive to Tampa and visit Busch Gardens. I hadn’t been since 1998 and although Bill thought he had been when he lived in Orlando, I actually think he was mistaking it for Cypress Gardens. I had set the alarm (the GREAT Hilton brand alarm clock that is becoming standard in all Hiltons) for 7am, and it woke both of us out of a dead sleep. At home, Bill is usually up between 4-5am regardless of what he has to do that day, so this proved how exhausted we were from the previous day.

I had brought along a battery charger to recharge the digital camera batteries daily, but when I opened it, I discovered that I had tried to charge regular batteries the last time I used it which fried the contacts and rendered it useless. If I was going to take pictures throughout the trip, I needed a new charger. Bill had wanted to get a wrench set to readjust the foot pedal on his wheelchair yesterday, so I had told him last night that if he went to Wal-Mart before I woke up, to also grab a new charger.

I got up some time around 8:30 and Bill had returned with both items and had fixed the wheelchair. It turns out the adjustment was one that didn’t need a wrench, but at least now we had a nice new set of tools!

We showered and hit the road, munching on the remains of a couple Danish that Bill had bought at the hotel’s gift/grocery store yesterday morning. They were actually very good for prepackaged goods. We arrived at the Park with no problems – it took about 75 minutes tops to get there and there was no traffic. I hadn’t remembered the park being so far from the freeway last time, but maybe I had taken a different route.

The parking lot looked totally different to me than from 1998, and it was clear that they had done some major overhaul and renovation to it, complete with lots of animal print signage everywhere. We were able to park way up front in the handicap section and avoid an awkward tram ride that takes you underground to get from the main lot to the original, smaller lot that is up close near the entrance. There were fairly big crowds waiting to get in and the sun was blistering hot. It was at this moment that I decided that I would start walking around with the umbrella up tomorrow! As ridiculous as it looks (at least in America), I wasn’t willing to sit there and bake like a cookie in the Florida sun just because it looks cool. Bill was rapidly getting burned too, after a full day of sun at Universal yesterday, and despite the thorough covering of sunblock we both used, he discovered that he was having an allergic reaction to the sun with little red bumps starting to appear on his thighs, ears, nose and hands! Weird places to get burnt, but then again if you’re sitting in a wheelchair, it makes perfect sense. Nevertheless, it made for a very uncomfortable vacation for him from there on out.

Our first stop was Gwazi. This coaster hadn’t yet been announced when I was last here so I was anxious to try it. We rode the Lion side together and then I went again alone on the Tiger side. Not a bad wooden roller coaster at all. Lots of tight twists and turns and not horribly bumpy, so it was a thumbs up. I find that the older I get, the less I can handle some woodies – even ones that I would have loved as a teenager. Thankfully, this one is still quite bearable.

We then walked through some areas of birdcages and saw a lot of props and sets for the Howl-O-Scream event which was to start within the next week. There was a beautiful gift shop selling logo items and lots of animal themed stuff with a heavy conservation message. It was nice and cool inside and we ended up purchasing a little dolphin figurine with “Busch Gardens” on it as well as some packets of instant Chai tea that looked interesting. Bill also bought this really interesting book of blank writing paper where every component was made from some sort of plant material. The cover was painted and the pages felt like leaves from a tree. It’s really beautiful and was worth the 12.99 it cost. Then, we stopped to get a picture of the Anheuser “A” which is like a topiary all done with greenery and flowers and is beautiful. The entire park is landscaped impeccably. I had remarked the last time we went to Sea World in California that I really loved the landscape, and it was clear that we were in Busch parks both times. It only made me want to see Busch Gardens Williamsburg that much more, since it’s always voted most beautiful park in the U.S.

We were starving, so we decided to try the Zambia Smokehouse, a new restaurant that was built at the same time as Sheikra. The menu looked (and smelled) awesome so we couldn’t go wrong. It was the same setup as the one nice restaurant at Sea World, basically buffeteria service but with nicer selections than most cafeterias. We split the sampler plate, which consisted of brisket, beef ribs, and a chicken thigh and leg, all barbequed. Bill grabbed two small sides of BBQ sauce, and the sign said that they were 59 cents each, but we weren’t charged at all. I also got a side dish each of macaroni and cheese and black beans with Spanish rice. I love my mac and cheese and any time I can try a new one, I’m all over it. For dessert, Bill chose a Key Lime pie. He also got a red fruit punch and I drank bottled water that I had brought from the hotel, which was now nicely melted but still freezing cold. Everything was delicious. This isn’t the best BBQ in the world, but for a theme park and when you are starving to death, it was glorious. Lots of choices that you will never see at counter service at WDW. The only slight disappointment was the pie, which was mostly all whipped cream and very little pie. What was there had no lime taste. Bill had lived in Key West for some time and knew what this pie should taste like, so after this, he said that he wanted to try as many Key Lime pies as we could find throughout our vacation.

We left Zambia feeling much better and ventured out to look at Shiekra, which looked amazing, but we thought it better to save it for later after our food had settled a bit more. I thought we would take the train ride as a good recovery ride instead. This was a big mistake. What looks like a nice, relaxing and informative ride around the park actually takes FOREVER. Once we had boarded, we had to sit at the station ten more minutes to wait for the other train to get far enough ahead that we had clearance to proceed. Once we did get going, the ride was pleasant enough, but it was so stifling hot with no breeze that we just felt trapped. We didn’t get off at the Nairobi station because we hadn’t seen the wildlife preserve section yet, so we bore another long wait for “clearance” but finally took off with a new tour guide narrating. She was all of 17, and I asked her if there had been a monorail ride over the Serengeti in the past, and she said she was 6 years old when it was around and had closed in 1995 to be replaced by the Sky Ride, which is the equivalent of WDW’s old Skyway. I suppose that was a fair trade but it was still a shame that the Monorail had to go.

By the time we finally made it to the Congo station (which wasn’t even a full loop), we were completely drained from the heat and needed a frozen lemonade right away. This was refreshing and we then got a pass for Kumba. On certain attractions, you are given a pass with a time to return on it for wheelchair parties, so that you essentially wait the same length of time to ride as the regular queue. This worked fine because it allowed us time to stroll shops while waiting. Bill bought a pack of postcards with various scenes from the park for 4.80. We went over to look at the Congo Rapids from the bridge, which I remembered doing in 1998. It’s very entertaining because you can put quarters in water guns and totally drench the riders below on the ride. Then we walked over to ride the Scorpion which was in a blazing hot sunny location with no shade whatsoever, so that wasn’t entirely pleasant but it did help use up the time. Finally, we got on Kumba which was even better than I had remembered. Very fun ride with a ton of twists and loops.

I knew that the old Python coaster was set to close soon so I wanted to make sure to get pictures and a farewell ride, so I went on that next while Bill waited. It wasn’t worth all the hassle of getting in and out of the wheelchair for such a tiny corkscrew coaster to him. It’s a fun ride, but it’s over before it starts. The operating crew was the most lethargic one I had seen in the park all day. The three of them would huddle up and converse between each train for what seemed like forever, almost as though simply to build up the ride’s queue that much longer. It was frustrating, but at least we were in the shade. It was a crackup the way they would lackadaisically say, “Enjoy your ride as you challenge the Python” on each departing train with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever. It was the same tone and same exact verbage I had heard in 1998, so at least they were adhering to history.

I wanted to ride the log ride, Stanley Falls, and despite Bill’s objections he agreed to ride as well, mostly to save me from waiting in the long line. We got another pass, and took off for SheikRa. We got on this ride very quickly and it was AWESOME. I had thought it was a flying coaster like the former Stealth at Paramount’s Great America, but it was actually a diving coaster. At the top of the first hill, you are slightly dropped over the fall and then HELD there for a good five seconds, looking straight down at the terror that awaits you. Fantastic! The ride is very short, but well worth it. A great new addition to the park. Afterward, Bill wanted to buy the on-board DVD that they offer of our ride, and even though it was cool to watch, it wasn’t worth the money and I finally convinced him to let it go.

We went back to claim our ride on Stanley Falls, which was a fun log flume, and got completely soaked on our backs. You repeatedly hear warnings to brace yourself during the last drop, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the sudden jolt and went flying towards the front of the car, which probably looked rather funny to a spectator.

Our day at the park was slowly coming to an end, but I wanted to be sure to see the signature stage show, Katonga, before we left. We had about 45 minutes before the last show, so we split up with me planning to ride the Sky Ride while Bill took a look in some shops, and at the Clydesdales in the stalls. Unfortunately, the Sky Ride line was ridiculously long so I wouldn’t have enough time to ride. If Disney thinks the Skyways in Anaheim or Orlando had outworn their welcome, they’d better think again because they are still very popular. Instead, I went into the gift shop at the base of the Sky Ride called Edge of Africa and found some wonderful stuff. The merchandise in this park is unbelievable compared to Universal or Disney. There are actual nice collectibles to be found, and every shop has something different. You could spend a whole day just shopping here. This particular store had medieval looking stuff as well as jungle/tropical furnishings. There was a sale rack of clothing and I happened to find some of that UV-protection clothing that is supposed to block the sun rays from reaching your skin. Bill needed this in the worst way so I tried calling him but he didn’t pick up his cell. I finally found him in the King Tut’s exhibit store – another store with great merchandise – and brought him back and he did buy the shirt along with a funky medieval walking cane. We had these sent to the front of the park to pick up on our way out.

We then saw Katonga, which is in the park’s large Moroccan Palace theatre. This had been a very good ice skating show in 1998. Katonga was just as good, but in a different way. It was loaded with live singing, dancing and puppetry and had great songs and sets. A really great show, similar to Festival of the Lion King but not so Disneyfied. If I lived in Tampa, I would be at this show all the time as a groupie! I kept wishing that my friend who I used to perform with could be in this show because she was perfect for one of the leads.

The last ride of the day was Montu, which I had remembered as a wonderfully smooth floorless coaster from my last trip, and I knew that Bill would love as well. When I told him we had one more ride to do, at first he said he wasn’t going to ride, and I had to really push him to remember that this would be one of his favorites. He finally agreed, and we proceeded to have a great ride which we both loved. I think he had just forgotten which coaster this was after such a coaster overload all day.

On our way towards the exit, we stopped in another shop that looked like an open air bazaar and Bill found UV pants to match the shirt he bought earlier. Perfect. Why doesn’t Disney sell stuff like this? Afterward, we went to the package pickup location in the Emporium, the main shop at the entrance. They have a very poor system for pickup and we ended up waiting a good half hour to get our bags which was a pain. In the meantime, I had told Bill that the one souvenir I would love from Busch Gardens would be a CD of the Katonga show. Sure enough, there it was at the registers. I was very impressed that they offered it to the public and quickly snatched a copy.

We dragged our weary bodies to the car and headed back to Orlando. It had been a long time since either of us spent full days at theme parks, and after two in a row we were dead to the world. Yet we were also hungry – so we stopped in Lakeland at the Cracker Barrel for dinner. Although most American cities today are interchangeable, with all the same stores and restaurants nationwide, Cracker Barrel is one that has yet to penetrate the Southern California market, so it’s a treat to be able to visit them when we see them.

There was no wait, although the dining room was full and typically noisy. It was obvious that the sight of two men dining alone in this city was not commonplace and we endured the weird looks. I ordered the sampler which consisted of chicken dumplings, sugar-cured ham, and meatloaf. It also came with a choice of three sides, so I chose the green beans, cottage cheese, and corn. Bill ordered chicken livers which came with two sides which were pinto beans and fried okra. We both chose the corn muffins for our bread and Bill also added a sweet tea, one of his favorite beverages. The food was mediocre at best. We’ve always enjoyed our meals here at the location in Phoenix, AZ but tonight something was off. The dumplings were gross and hard, the ham was a tiny slice with a big fat vein down the middle, and the meatloaf wasn’t tasty. Bill’s livers were lousy, with no taste at all, and he hated the pinto beans. Even the okra was soggy. Compared to the PoFolks restaurant back home, this was an embarrassment for almost the same exact menu. Oh well, even with the mint sticks, coconut patties and licorice bites we added to our tab from the gift shop, the total was still only 21.66. You really can’t complain there.

I had also seen a nice animated witch when we first walked in, so I bought that on the way out. She was 40% off, I love animation, she had fiber optics and a porcelain face and it’s not as common to see Halloween themed ones – especially ones that actually plug in vs. needing batteries. For around 24 bucks, I couldn’t pass it up.

We made it back to the Hilton with no problems on traffic-free highways. We went back to the Jacuzzi again even though it was closing within 30 minutes or so. Had to make sure to get the most out of the timeshare experience! As Bill was drying off and getting ready to go, I decided to check out the other pool on property to do a compare and contrast. I walked down the path along the water, which even though pitch black, was quite nice at this hour. The other pool was the secondary one – not as big and not as many features to it, however, I liked it better. The pool water was warmer and it had a zero entry into it. There was also a Jacuzzi there. If we ever stay at this property again, I’ll be sure to request a suite closer to this pool area. I took a quick dip in that pool even though I was already dry from the other one, just to say I had experienced both and then walked back to the suite. Neither of us had taken advantage of the Jacuzzi tub in the room so of course I had to try that before we checked out, too. I filled the tub with water, pressed the button, and nothing happened. I took off the panel and looked to make sure all the wires were in the right places, and still nothing. I left the tub full, thinking I would use it in the morning after I called maintenance.

I did a load of white laundry and it was SO great not to pay two dollars for the privilege. We had bought detergent at Publix which was a full size box since they didn’t have any travel packages. Little did we know that there was a box of complimentary Tide under the kitchen sink! Oh well, both items were packed and shipped home later.

I checked my cell phone and saw a text message from Susan. We met Susan and her fiancé, Scott, while standing in line at Disneyana in Anaheim to purchase some collectibles during an artist signing earlier this year. They were really nice, and we ended up hanging out for a little while afterward at the new Food and Wine Festival at DCA, and exchanged email addresses. One of the things we talked about over lunch was the Free Dining plan that we had already booked at WDW, and they became intrigued and ended up booking for some of the same dates as us. Susan was already scheduled to be in Orlando for a convention the week prior for her work, so it was convenient to extend and send Scott along afterward to make a vacation out of it. The text message was wondering what time we would be at the Magic Kingdom tomorrow so that we could meet up. I replied that I wasn’t sure, because I knew Bill would want to get to Disney as soon as possible, but I wanted to enjoy the suite right up until check out time, so it wouldn’t be too early. Plus, this was going to be our only evening Extra Magic Hours night at Magic Kingdom, so there was no need to arrive that early. We had found by this point that it was going to be much easier to enjoy the parks after dark this trip due to the killer sun and Bill’s already-bad allergies and rashes.

I finally landed in bed somewhere after midnight, exhausted once again. There are just too many things to do in the Orlando vicinity, not to mention in your own hotel room, to cram into 24 hours per day.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The first thing I did this morning was call the front desk about the Jacuzzi tub. The problem was that I hadn’t filled the water high enough to touch the level sensor, and without that, the system is rigged to not start at all. Stupid me. I added more of the hottest water possible to make up for the cold water that sat overnight and had a quick relaxing bath. I wanted Bill to get a little use out of the tub too, so he got in after me and sat for a little while.

I did the other load of dark laundry while packing up the room for the move to Disney property. We checked out by 10:30. As a Hilton HHonors Gold member, I was given a few coupons at check in that allowed me to spend $10 for free in the gift shop, so I got a few snack items and a newspaper.

I stopped at the Character Outlet on Apopka-Vineland Rd. that I had never seen before and we picked up a few knick knacks, like a cute resin figurine of the blue alligator from Blizzard Beach and a couple shirts for Bill. Total was 30.80.

Almost to Disney, I then stopped at the McDonalds at the Crossroads for a quick breakfast and then we checked in at Coronado Springs. There was almost no wait to check in. I had requested, via the travel agent, an accessible room in either the Cabanas or Ranchos section. Instead, we were assigned to the Casitas section. The room was accessible, complete with a roll-in shower, but in the least desirable section of the hotel for me. I asked if there was any way we could be moved to the other sections, even if it meant getting a regular room, and he said they were sold out of king beds. I also told him that the bed type could be changed. The front desk agent had to go get his manager and made it into a bigger deal than I’d meant it to be. The manager then told me that he could move me, but it would have to be a smoking room. I didn’t want that, so I stuck with the original room in Casitas. At different times, both men asked me why I wanted Ranchos or Cabanas, as if they were so undesirable that they couldn’t understand why I was being so particular. It was a simple matter of taste. I hated the look of the Casitas, plus they were the farthest from the main pool. The Cabanas looked lovely with their sandy beaches, and the Ranchos were remote and well themed. I took my keys, got my welcome packet, and the clerk told me to call the front desk tomorrow and they would probably be able to move me after a chunk of conventioneers checked out.

So we made our way over to our room in Casitas, opened the door, and neither of us was particularly impressed. It was OK, but it smelled musty and since the roll-in shower takes more space than the regular bathrooms, the rest of the room was that much smaller. Granted, I had asked for accessible, but I didn’t need the roll-in shower. I was just trying to get a King bedded room by default! We decided right away not to unpack too much, just deal with it for a night, and then request to move tomorrow. Bill did appreciate the ease of just walking up to the shower head and not having to step over a bathtub, but other than that, the room was a little worn down and missing some of the furnishings we were used to from Caribbean Beach and French Quarter.

After the light unpacking, we took a stroll around the entire perimeter of the resort – me walking, Bill riding his wheelchair. That’s a LONG walk, but not unbearable – probably about a mile. After we made the loop, I asked Bill which section he liked best, and he replied Cabanas. We both agreed on that. We also checked out the lobby gift shop and the Maya Grill restaurant, where we’d be having dinner later tonight. During the stroll, Bill was becoming irritated at the noise from his wheelchair, so we went to Wal Mart to get a socket set as well as some Solarcaine to help ease his sunburn (Total 29.46). He lay down in the back of the minivan on the way back to WDW and tried to work on it and was semi-successful in getting rid of the noise.

We pulled up to Animal Kingdom as our first park. I’ve been enjoying this park more and more with each new visit. It doesn’t have that many rides, but it can still be a full day Park if you do everything they have to offer. We were starving, so we headed to the Flame Tree BBQ for lunch. We split the ½ slab of St. Louis Ribs with baked beans and corn on the cob as well as Key Lime pie for dessert and iced tea to drink. With the intense heat and the fact that Bill doesn’t usually eat a full meal by himself, it made sense to share, and that way we would be hungry enough for our dinner which was not too far away at 5:30. As last time, the food was wonderful. The ribs were tender and flavorful, the beans were extra sweet, and the pie was much better than the one at Busch Gardens. We sat on the lowest level seating near the water’s edge, which is just beautiful. The last time we sat here, Everest was barely beginning to take shape but this time we could see the actual cars traversing the mountain, which was exciting.

After lunch we went to ride Dinosaur. I figured short line and air conditioning was a perfect combination right about now. Well, this turned out to be the longest I’d ever waited for the ride. We were held in the circular room for what seemed like forever, and then the actual loading and dispatch of the vehicles was extremely slow for some reason. As much as I like the ride itself, it was very bumpy and jerky, which didn’t feel so hot right after lunch, but we still enjoyed it.

It was getting late, so we decided to line up for the parade. We went to the handicap seating area along the pathway to Asia as we had done last year. I was hoping that CM Linda would be working this area as she was a delight last year to listen to before the parade. Unfortunately she was not there today. I asked Bill if he minded if I crossed to the other side of the street because the handicap area was getting full and I wanted to make as much room as possible for the actual wheelchairs. I crossed over and watched opposite Bill’s spot. This turned out to be a horrible spot because it was right where traffic merged and was forced to either watch the parade or go into a gift shop. Tempers and temperatures were both flaring and it was not pleasant. There was a particularly smelly diaper near me, too, which made the wait that much more unbearable. When the parade started, however, all was well with the world – children shut up, smiles appeared, and a good time was had by all. Just took a little Disney magic to change everyone’s moods. The parade was the same as always, with a notable exception. In the first car of park guests, the chosen couple was a male couple. I’d never seen that and was thrilled. Why? Not because they were “my people”, but because they actually looked like they were having fun up there instead of just looking stupid and waving. No, they were dancing in their seats and singing the words! Yes, they knew the soundtrack well and may have been passholders or just frequent guests, but they actually looked like paid performers. I hate when Disney plusses their parades with park guests who look like fools on the floats, but these men were a joy to watch.

We needed to leave soon to make our dinner seating, but we stopped in the Outfitters shop, which houses the Art of Disney/Collectibles offering at Animal Kingdom. We found a ton of things we just loved, including an actual Ostrich egg painted with Lion King characters on it and finished with many coats of hard shellac to preserve it. There were great lithos of Animal Kingdom artwork also, and a small Swarovski Maleficent that we’d never seen before. We were drooling for all of it, but it was too early in the trip to make a big purchase, so I took pictures of the items we liked and made notes about what to get later.

We made it back to our room, changed clothes and went to the Maya Grill at 5:30. A couple in front of us in line had reservations for much later, and were trying to be seated right away. They were politely told that they couldn’t accommodate them until their actual time. It was clear from the onset that the Dining Plan had filled up restaurants completely, even at the resorts. We were seated quickly and enjoyed the atmosphere of this restaurant quite a bit. Our server came quickly to get our drink orders, which were an iced tea for me and a Cadillac Margarita for Bill. Bill likes to try Margaritas everywhere we go to compare and contrast. This one was ridiculously strong – I took a few sips and felt like I was going to pass out. Needless to say, we both had to share the drink to come close to finishing it by the end of the meal. This was an extra 9.32 including tip that would not be covered by the Dining Plan.

It took a bit longer than one would expect to get our drinks, but they finally arrived and we ordered our meals. As appetizers, Bill ordered the Pulled Pork Empanada and I the soup of the day, which was Beef Tip Chili with Tomatoes. Bill’s was two small orange-colored pockets filled with meat and topped with chipotle cream. It was pretty good, but not spectacular. My soup was very good and had good flavor without being overly spicy. For our entrees, Bill ordered the special of the day which was Beef Tips with a sautéed mushroom medley and baked potato, and I had the Steak and Catch, which consisted of a small filet mignon and two pieces of Corvina fish. Our entrees took FOREVER to arrive. We were beginning to nod off when they finally showed up. Bill’s beef tips were huge chunks of meat, and not the highest quality meat either. They also didn’t have very good taste. He took a few bites and concentrated more on the mushrooms and baked potato. My dish was much better. The filet was tender and flavorful and the fish was very mild. I had asked for all veggies and no potato, and the vegetables offered were very good as well. We had so much time to kill between visits from our server that I had plenty of time to walk over and look at the dessert samples near the front of the restaurant. I came back and relayed what I saw to Bill, so we had pretty much decided even before ordering. When our server finally did return, he described the desserts a bit more thoroughly than I had to Bill, and we decided on the Tres Leches plate for him, and the Churros for me. The Churros were three small ones placed in a triangular formation in vanilla sauce and sliced bananas and coconut ice cream in the middle, along with a chocolate stick. The Churros themselves were lousy – nothing like the tasty ones sold in the parks at the stands. There was no crunch and no flavor. At least the coconut ice cream was refreshing. Bill’s plate included a piece of chocolate cake sitting in tres leches sauce, a dollop of chocolate mousse in a caramel “shell”, and a kiwi strawberry compote with two chocolate sticks. A lot of flavors on one plate, and mostly mediocre according to Bill.

The entire meal took two full hours. We were exhausted by the end, and I was mad that it was already near 8pm. Total would have been $52 with the tip. We left with a not so favorable impression of the Maya Grill. I had had some good items, but it was clear that you had to pick and choose on their menu in order to find the best entrees.

Back at the room, we discovered that I had left the new battery charger for the camera batteries back at the Hilton. I knew exactly where I’d left it, and I called housekeeping and made a complaint. They said they would get back to me as soon as they’d gone to the room and checked it out in person. Bill laid down on the bed briefly while I was doing that to recover from the dinner experience. I had been texting with Susan about meeting at the Magic Kingdom after dinner, and even though I had planned on getting there much sooner, we still wanted to go, since this was the one night for Extra Magic Hours there.

My friend Darliene also texted us to remind us to pick up two Binford Tools shirts for her from MGM, and wished us a happy vacation. She has worked in the character dept. at Disneyland for over 10 years, having transferred from the Disney Stores at the same time that I was in Parades, and we have always stayed in touch. I remarked that I sure wished she was with us right now for her cast member discount on merchandise.

We finally arrived at the Magic Kingdom around 9:00 and watched part of Wishes from the Monorail as we pulled into the station. Perfect view. We met Scott and Susan and remarked how weird it was to see eachother on this Main Street instead of the one in Anaheim. It was our first time at the MK this trip, so of course the first thing we had to do was scour the shops of Main Street for new merchandise, LOL! Scott and Susan are collectors of some things as well so we both looked thru a few shops together and compared notes about what we had seen and already bought and what we wanted to get before the trip ended.

We then headed towards Liberty Square. Bill snuck off to his favorite smoking area behind the Christmas shop while the three of us went in the shop. Last year, we had seen the Minnie Christmas Tree Topper and I told Bill that they’d have it in California, which they did, but then we procrastinated too long to buy it and missed out. Not wanting to go thru that again, Bill told me as I went into the store, “Get that tree topper and have it shipped NOW.” Sure enough, there was one left on the shelf and I grabbed it and had it sent to the hotel.(Total 31.95) At the same time, Susan bought the Cinderella castle that is part of the town square collection of lighted buildings. It’s really nice.

After that we all went on Big Thunder with a very short wait, since we were able to take the wheelchair entrance. Next was Pirates, which Bill didn’t feel like riding, so we left him in the gift shop at the exit and rode ourselves. There was no wait at all and we stepped right into an empty boat. The ride itself was okay, a little bit better than the horrible original version, but still nothing too dynamic. I’ve heard that WDW realized that their small budget on this rehab is an embarrassment compared to the Disneyland version, so perhaps when they add the next wave of new animatronics, a little bit more will be invested.

After this we strolled toward the hub trying to decide what to do next. Noreen called my cell phone. We had told eachother that maybe we could meet up this evening at the MK if her friend Cathy was too tired to be at the park so late, but apparently they had done a good job of covering the parks on their own, as it was now around 11:00. We caught up a little on eachother’s activities of the past couple days, and bid eachother farewell for the time being, as she was leaving for her cruise in the morning and wouldn’t be able to come back to the Parks on this trip.

We stopped to get Bill a Dole Whip float which was available as a snack credit on the Dining Plan – very cool. After that was Pooh, again using the wheelchair entrance, then Space Mountain, and then the TTA without Bill. Unfortunately, the TTA doesn’t have an elevator up to the loading circle, only an escalator, which makes it too far of a walk for Bill to get to anymore, so he had to sit this one out. Hopefully, when and if they rebuild the Peoplemover in California, they will consider adding an elevator so he can ride.

We found Bill at the smoking area near Carousel of Progress afterward and slowly made our way out of the Park. It was fun to close a park for a change. The shops were mostly closed already, so I guess there’s no extra hour of shopping beyond the already-extended Extra Magic Hours benefit. Since Scott and Susan had arrived from their hotel (Pop Century) via bus, we offered to drive them back in our van. There weren’t any seats for them since we had stowed the seats into the floor for the wheelchair, but they happily sat in the back on the floor and stretched out a little bit. At least it was a direct route to the hotel with no crying children to deal with on a bus. It took me a minute to find Pop but I finally did, and I dropped them off near their building. I liked the architecture of the hotel buildings and thought, “We could do this.” It can’t be that bad. At least it has a great theme of pop culture, which is something I obsess about, having been a teenager of the 80s. We made it back to Coronado Springs at about 1:10am and collapsed.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This morning I was awakened by the alarm clock in the room at 3AM to very loud, very ethnic music blasting me upright. Apparently the previous tenants of the room had had an early morning the night before and forgot to turn off the alarm. In retrospect it’s funny but it scared me half to death, having only been asleep a couple of hours at that point! Bill didn’t budge, which is rare, and indicates again how tired he was. I re-set the alarm for 6:45, which is when we both got up. Bill showered first, then myself, and we made it to Animal Kingdom for early entry by 8:05.

Our first stop was Everest, which was not open yet, so we got a FastPass for later. Instead, we did the Safari with a moderate wait of 20 minutes or so. Even at that early hour and with fans running, I remember the queue line for this to be very hot and muggy – ridiculous for before 9am in September! The ride itself was fine – never one of my favorites but enjoyable nonetheless. When I think of Disney, I think of manufactured fantasy, not real animals. That’s more of a zoo or Busch Gardens thing for me. Not that I don’t want the animals to be present, it just doesn’t feel especially Disney to me.

For breakfast, we decided on the Tusker House. I had a plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and a biscuit and Bill had a fruit bowl with yogurt, a cinnamon roll and a chocolate milk. While waiting for the food, they had already placed the milk out on the counter and I grabbed it. When they brought the rest, they put out an additional milk, thinking that I hadn’t already gotten the first one. I admit, I accepted both milks in what would be my largest Disney heist in years. I didn’t feel guilty. We were originally going to use the Dining Plan for this meal but decided to switch to cash at the last minute, and we also added an AK antenna topper to give to one of my co workers back home, which was conveniently placed at the checkout register. I cannot believe those little pieces of foam are now up to 4.95.

Our FastPass for Everest was now ready, so we went and rode with a very short wait. The back seat of every train has a swing-away door to ease the loading for handicapped guests. This turned out to be a huge benefit of this ride for Bill, as he could basically just slide from his seat to the coaster seat with very little effort. Compared to rides like Space Mountain, Pirates and Small World where you have to seriously step down to reach your seat, this was a blessing. The ride itself was great. It’s a very smooth coaster with some nice theming and a great animatronic of the Yeti at the end. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit short considering the size of the mountain constructed to house it, and the backward part made me slightly queasy. Nothing that would prevent me from riding it repeatedly, though! The gift shop at the end is well stocked with Everest merchandise and we saw a few things we liked, but held off knowing that we would be back to ride this again before the trip was over.

Festival of the Lion King was next at 10:40. We were seated in our usual Elephant section in the front row of wheelchairs. The show was as great as always, and for the first time in a long time I noticed that all the singing leads were different people. I still have the same complaints about this show – that the animal noise thing and the hand jive that they “teach” you in the beginning are both stupid, but I understand they’re more for the kids.

We left the park by 11:30ish because we needed to get back to the hotel to request a room change, stopping to fill gas at the Hess station by the Boardwalk (Total 38.02). I wanted to time my request semi-near checkout time so as to impose the least upon housekeeping. I called to make the request, and they told me that the only way to get into the Cabanas section would be a smoking room. Not wanting to risk getting a particularly stinky room, I went with the second option of Ranchos, non smoking, right off the quiet pool. This was in building 7B and was a perfect spot. We waited about 25 minutes for a bellman to show up, but he finally arrived and drove us across the lake to our new home. Everything about this room felt better - the location, the upkeep, and of course the “normal” bathroom. The accessible room was also missing the dividing curtain between the bed and the dressing area as well as the shelf above the clothing racks. It was nice to have all these items back. The one thing we both really disliked about Coronado Springs was that there was only one sink. We were spoiled by the double sinks at Caribbean Beach and French Quarter. I tipped the bellman $3 and we were finally able to unpack properly and have a sense of order in our new room.

For lunch, we decided to try the Pepper Market. It’s an unusual setup with various food stations that you can grab your items from and have each station stamp your paper, showing what you ordered. You then sit at your assigned table, eat, and pay on your way out. It’s obviously done differently here than at the other resorts because of the increased convention traffic, but it seemed pointless. I understand that Pepper Market is run by a third party lessee, so this may be their preference, not Disney’s.

Anyway, the selections were more extensive here than at the other food courts, which was a nice plus. We both had Penne with wild mushroom sauce covered with plenty of Parmesan cheese, and a side of bread. Bill also had a piece of German Chocolate cake as his dessert, and we both had iced tea. The pasta was very good, but the cake was lousy. It had just been sitting way too long. One complaint I have with this place was that there is no indication of what you can and cannot order on the Dining Plan. Apparently there are three tiers of desserts, and only tier I and II are allowed on the Plan, but the cake was tier III. Luckily the cashier let it slide this time after explaining how it worked.

Bill drove the wheelchair back to the room while I retrieved the van from our old Casitas parking spot and brought it around to the Ranchos section. For all the fuss they had made about finding me a nonsmoking room, the parking lots at Ranchos and Cabanas were no more than 1/3 full. I really have to question Operations sometimes. Bill had discovered right away that he wasn’t getting an internet connection in our new room. This had nothing to do with the hotel’s own service, since we were using a wireless Sprint satellite card (and thereby avoiding the ridiculous access fees of the hotel!) but we soon found that the only way to get a connection was to take the laptop outside of the room. Who knew Disney’s insulation was that great?

I really wanted to take advantage of the water parks, so I headed out to Blizzard Beach. Bill decided not to go because of his sunburn which was bad enough with clothes on, let alone shirtless and out in the sunny swimming areas. He made sure to tell me, “Don’t forget I’m here!” on my way out. Love that guilt. I arrived around 2:15 and loved the place. This was my first time here and I had been expecting a very sunny, barren landscape with mostly solid concrete made to look like melting snow, but instead it was very tropical, much like Typhoon Lagoon. This meant a lot more shade than I had imagined, which was great! Only the top of the mountain is barren and sunny – the rest is very secluded and beautiful.

I started by walking a full circle around the park which was MUCH longer than I’d anticipated. It was hot and I hadn’t taken my shirt off, so I was very envious of all the swimmers and sliders around me. I thought about stuffing my backpack in a corner and taking a chance and just getting in the lazy river, but I couldn’t risk someone stealing anything, so I got myself a locker after my exhausting walk and was finally free of my hot clothes. I started by getting into the river and made almost a complete circle. I don’t remember the proper names of everything, but I went on 2 waterslides and also spent some time in the wave pool. I’d really just wanted to get an overview of the place, not spend the whole afternoon there, and with that accomplished, I turned in my locker key and headed out. On the way, I stopped in the gift shop and found aqua shoes that can be worn in the water. I’d wanted to get Bill some of these for use at home in our pool but couldn’t find them anywhere. The line, however, was way too long to buy a $16 pair of slippers so I left them and figured we’d get them later if Bill liked the idea.

I’d been dreading it, but I had to go back outside the World to Wal-Mart to get the replacement battery charger that I’d left at the Hilton. I did that as quickly as possible, then got back to the room by 4:30, where Bill had taken a short nap and managed to get online. Our dinner reservation for tonight was for 5:30 at Marrakesh, so we had to get going very quickly to make it.

I didn’t bother trying to park at the Boardwalk or Beach Club in order to be closer to the World Showcase but I probably should have. We did make it to Marrakesh on time, but not without hiking the two miles from the front gate of Epcot in the blazing heat to get there. I’m sure I was a lovely, sweaty sight by the time we checked in. I’d always known that this restaurant was not as popular as the others, but was still surprised to see a blatant sign out in front of the Morocco pavilion advertising it, along with a cast member standing at a podium ready to take future reservations. It’s sad, but just a simple fact that the average WDW guest isn’t the type to make too many adventurous dining choices.

All I can say is, they are missing out. This was a fabulous meal that I will now likely repeat on any future WDW trip. The setting is one large room with high ceilings and traditional chandeliers and lots of tile work on the walls. It reminded me of the old Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas before the renovation. I love the old kitsch, yet this was meant to be authentic, so I didn’t feel it was in any danger of modernization. There were definite signs of maintenance neglect. I don’t know what it is about World Showcase, but the maintenance has always seemed very spotty – perfect in some places, lacking in others. I get the feeling that these foreign food restaurants are not operated by Disney directly, but I’m really not sure. Anyway, on to the meal.

Bill started with the Chicken Bastilla appetizer. This is described as baked layers of thin pastry stuffed with minced chicken and almonds, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. The first thought is chicken with sugar? But it’s absolutely wonderful. I wished I had ordered it and now I know what to get in the future. I had Harira Soup, which is traditional hearty soup with tomatoes, lentils and lamb. It simply tasted like a very mild tomato/chili soup. Very good, and for those who may be afraid of lamb, don’t be – you can’t even tell that it is there.

Bill’s main course was the Shish Kebab which is grilled tenderloin of beef marinated in Moroccan herbs and spices. It came as two sticks of meat over white rice with green peppers, all in tomato sauce. I was surprised that Bill would again order beef after last night’s beef tips at Maya Grill, but this was infinitely better. I ordered the Chicken Couscous. This was two pieces of chicken breast covered with herbs on top of a large bed of yellow couscous and lots of cooked vegetables including tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato, garbanzo beans, and zucchini. Absolutely delicious, and I’m not a fan of cooked vegetables.

For dessert, Bill had the Bastilla which is crispy leaves of pastry topped with vanilla cream and sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s much different than the chicken Bastilla appetizer but was quite good. I had the Marrakesh Delight, which is fresh fruit salad topped with mint ice cream, toasted almonds and orange blossom water. It was actually mint chocolate chip ice cream, which was a little disappointing since I was expecting some authentic mint creation direct from Europe, but I accepted it. There was also a cinnamon sugar crisp on the top. Apparently they use a lot of cinnamon in Morocco!

The entire meal took about an hour and ten minutes – much better than Maya Grill last night. As an added bonus, the belly dancer came out towards the end of the meal, which was entertaining. By the time we were leaving, the restaurant had filled up nicely, so I guess the podium out front wasn’t an altogether bad idea. The couple dining next to us was speaking French, and I was surprised when the Moroccan waiter began speaking fluent French right back to them as if it was nothing. The French couple also had perfect, accent-free English, so I thought to myself, here I am in World Showcase in Epcot surrounded by all these cultures and nationalities melting right into this one spot. It was a really cool feeling.

After that scrumptious dinner, we took the Monorail over to the Magic Kingdom to catch Spectromagic. We had a little bit of time, so I’d wanted to go to the collectibles shop inside the Castle, but the entrances were blocked off in preparation for the fireworks. Very irritating. Instead, we checked out the patriotic shop next to Hall of Presidents, and I noticed that HoP itself had opened early from it’s rehab. While in the shop, I called a friend from work who had just been to WDW a few weeks before me to catch up and compare notes. I also found out that another work friend had been in a motorcycle accident on the way to Las Vegas, but was doing ok.

We watched the parade from in front of Ye Olde Christmas Shop. I had gotten Bill a perfect spot in the handicap section with a great view, but he received a call from a client back home that required his immediate attention, and he was forced to back up and take the call and ended up with a spot farther back in the crowd. The only different thing I noticed in the parade was that the whirly ball Spectro Men were missing. I figured this was because they were being used in the Halloween parade. I was standing next to a large party from Alabama and I found that the man standing next to me was a DVC owner at the Boardwalk. I asked for some feedback and he had nothing but glowing comments about it thus far. He was staying at Old Key West in two, 2-bedroom units because they were larger than Boardwalk. The Southern hospitality was evident and reminded me how different people are in different parts of our own country!

I spoke to Susan about upcoming plans to meet again. Susan and Scott laugh at me sometimes for knowing so much useless trivia about the Parks, but tonight I was stumped when Susan produced the direct phone number to Disneyana back in Anaheim. I was pretty impressed, considering Disneyland never gives out direct numbers like that. I was also glad to have it, because I needed to call them to ask if they carried the same Swarovski Maleficent metal box that I’d seen at the Animal Kingdom. A very helpful phone number.

We headed out of the Park thru some of the Main St. shops and got on a very efficient Monorail back to Epcot and the parking lot. Bill was still on and off the phone with his client as he tried to maneuver the wheelchair with one hand and hold the phone with the other. A nice, relaxing way to spend a vacation! Back at the van, we then drove over to MGM, as if we hadn’t crammed enough into this day already. But it was Extra Magic evening hours, so why not?

We arrived by 9:30 and Bill wanted ice cream, which he found at the end of Sunset Blvd. near the Tower. I didn’t even know this place had ice cream, and I should’ve left it to Bill to find sweets at any time. I crossed the street and got a popcorn. We got both of these items with snack credits. Then, we rode Tower of Terror with roughly a 20 minute wait. Afterward, Bill went to his smoking area near the exit of the Tower gift shop while I strolled toward the Great Movie Ride taking pictures along the way. We met up at the GMR and rode with a short wait. There was only one car running, so we didn’t take up the full show space inside the ride. The movie at the end was indeed updated, but it still looked grainy and archaic. They really should have created an entirely new film instead of just pasting in a few new movies.

Bill’s client again called as we were leaving the ride, so instead of talking and driving again, I motioned to Bill to just park and talk while I took some more pictures. This was in the area of the 50’s Prime Time Café, which was deserted at this hour and very peaceful to just browse and get some good night shots of the signs and the big dinosaur. I noticed quite a bit of burnt out neon everywhere. I’d read on discussion boards that the lights weren’t being kept up and now I’d seen it in person, which was disconcerting.

We drove back to the hotel, I typed the notes of the day into the laptop, and was in bed around midnight.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This morning, I was up in the 8 o’clock hour without an alarm. We started with breakfast at the Pepper market. I had a skillet with eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese sauce plus potatoes and a milk to drink. A nice light, healthy, lowfat meal – not! I’m not sure that WDW knows what sensible eating is. Bill had an egg platter which was similar to my skillet except without the sausage, and the ingredients were not all mixed together. It was a pretty good meal, and a step above the other food courts we’d tried on past vacations.

We had brought the laptop to Pepper Market to get a better connection than in the room and I made sure to read the MousePlanet park updates for both DL and WDW. Gotta keep up with my home park even when I’m in Florida, LOL. While I continued to read, Bill left towards the room via his wheelchair. I soon followed back and we then headed out to find Mouse Surplus. I had started to get the feelings of the beginning of a cold – sore throat, general malaise and definite irritability. We had bad directions to the store via Yahoo Driving Directions, and it took a few wrong turns and several yelling matches at eachother before we found the place, but we finally did arrive. Out front was one of the clear snowglobes from the Share a Dream Come True Parade. Who’d buy that?

Inside, there were many cool items from the past as well as a lot of surplus junk that noone would ever buy. Tons of broken trinkets and figurines, old bedspreads and furniture from the hotel rooms, ride vehicles from the past, some great special event signs, and the whole series of Jeff Lange DVDs. I picked up the Disneyland 35th anniversary DVD because I didn’t have a good video of the Party Gras parade and it was supposed to be included on this disc. Other than that, there was too much junk or items priced much too high for my budget, so that’s all I purchased. I would have loved to have gotten a whole room of Wilderness Lodge furniture, but the shipping cost made it prohibitive.

I was still irritated with Bill for giving me trouble about driving directions and not being able to find my way, plus he claimed to know where we were, so I let him drive. We needed to stop at Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a cardboard box to ship our souvenirs home, so we just drove back towards WDW and luckily found the Lowe’s on Sandlake Rd. Cost $3.18. The trip back was colored by many wrong turns and many expletives – I didn’t say a word until we got back on property and just laid back and let Bill experience what I had been putting up with for five days already <g>

We arrived at Epcot around 12:30 and started with Spaceship Earth. Afterwards we headed into World Showcase and I rode El Rio del Tiempo while Bill stayed outside to smoke. It’s a lot of work to get into the Pavilion and step down into those boats for him, so he didn’t feel it was worth it this trip. I wanted to use a counter service credit in Epcot, so I chose the Lotus Blossom Café. I ordered the Orange Chicken bowl, Red Bean ice cream and a Sprite to drink. Bill wasn’t hungry for a meal yet, so he just bought a small peach iced tea for 2.67. The receipt for it actually said “plum tea” which wasn’t on the menu and must have been another item recently removed in the downsizing of menu choices. The chicken was very good and there was a lot of it. The bowl is simply rice and the meat – no vegetables – and the sauce is deep, dark red and tastes different than Panda Express. Perhaps a bit more bland, but still good. The ice cream was a disappointment – it was in a pre-packaged cup obviously purchased offsite and transported to the location. Well, somewhere along the way it must have defrosted a bit because the texture was very crunchy with ice. I’d much rather they had large 5 gallon tubs that they scooped on demand.

While we were sitting in the Lotus Blossom (sweating to death even though we were in the shade), it began to rain. I was so hot and feeling so sick that I stood out in the rain for a minute just to cool off. These were the big drops that actually hurt when they hit you at the wrong angle. Eventually, we took off and headed into the Italy pavilion with the one small umbrella I’d been carrying to protect both of us. The shop in Italy, Il Bel Cristallo, had a cute shirt that I bought for my mom that said “Italia” on it and had long sleeves. Mom insists on long sleeve t-shirts because she thinks her arms are too fat for short sleeve, and she’s full blooded Italian, so this was perfect. I paid my $29.82 and had it sent back to the hotel.

Next up was Germany after a mad dash in the rain. We looked through all the stores in the Pavilion, enjoying all the Christmas ornaments and dolls and wooden carvings. I could spend a lot of money in this country alone. Since Bill hadn’t eaten lunch, he was ready for something and decided to go ahead of me to the bakery in France for his favorite, a Napoleon. In the meantime I strolled at a slower pace and got my favorite, a Kaki Gori. The pleasure of this was marred by two men who were traveling together with their wives. The women were in line to order their shaved ices, and the men just couldn’t do anything but whine and complain about everything. From the way they were talking, they were obviously frequent guests, too. I felt like saying if you hate the place so much, why do you keep coming back? They were saying stupid things like, “It’s always ten degrees hotter RIGHT here in front of THIS stand than in the whole rest of Epcot. And WE have to stand here and wait for them EVERY year.” Of course, they certainly didn’t seem to mind the heat when the wives asked what flavor they would like for themselves! I came very close to whispering to the ladies that I didn’t know how they put up with these oafs for so long, but I restrained myself and got my usual delicious Honeydew flavored ice.

I figured Bill would still be in process of getting his dessert, so I walked up the trail to the Japanese gardens outside of the Yakitori House. I’d never seen this area and thought it was beautiful. I made sure to call my best friend, who is Japanese, and tell him how being in that spot made me think of him and how I’d wished he was there at the time.

Back downstairs, I was hoping to catch a little bit of Miyuki’s presentation but she was not out, so I continued on to France. I found Bill outside of the bakery, having been blocked by one of the huge rental ECVs and still having not made it up the ramp to place his order. Apparently he had asked them if they would move and they totally ignored him, got out of the ECV, and walked away, leaving the ECV blocking the path. He had also tried flagging down a French cast member to tell them, but they did nothing for him, so he was livid by the time I arrived. I tried to calm him down and got in line and got the Napoleon for him (3.95) and sent him to the tables inside the gift shop to cool down. By the time I was done, the ECV had been moved so the travesty was over. In general, I’ve found that the World Showcase area really isn’t as accessible as the rest of the parks.

Afterward I glanced in the French shops quickly while Bill smoked and we then headed back to Future World and got in line for Mission Space. The wait was very short, however after we went through the first video, the doors didn’t open and we sat there for a good 10 minutes. Eventually, we were told we had to switch to another room and had to sit through the damn video once more. I figured there had been a “protein spill” in the other centrifuge. Thankfully I didn’t get dizzy or nauseous and we had a good ride. It’s a very good thing that they have the chambers very cold because it helps tremendously. If I noticed that the A/C was out, I wouldn’t ride.

We needed to get back to Canada for our dinner at Le Cellier so we headed back once again towards World Showcase. The timing was right for an American Adventure show so we did that. I don’t like the way the wheelchair parties are all in the back row only, so I went down towards the front. I don’t think Bill cared either way and probably would have been fine just sleeping back there, but I loved it down in front. After the show, we went into the adjoining gift shop and Bill bought himself a nice Mickey Americana long sleeve t-shirt as well as a Jim Shore lighthouse. We have several Disney pieces by Jim, and Bill loves lighthouses, so he couldn’t resist. Total spent here $55.33.

We then stopped in the shop in Canada and picked out some things we wanted to buy later. There was a lovely blonde Canadian working in the store and she was full of energy and was working the room asking if anyone needed help. This old man overheard her talking about how she’d only been a cast member for a short time but hoped to become permanent. His rude response was, “Oh yeah, you all want to be in America but then you hate Americans.” Okay, I’ll agree that his statement is true for a lot of people, but still, it’s not something to say out loud in public to a stranger who is trying her best to make your day at Epcot special. I was so offended for the poor girl, but sure enough, she replied in the kindest voice possible, “Oh no, that’s not true! I love Americans!” and went on asking if he needed any other help with merchandise. This CM was a gem in my opinion. She averted a crisis and steered the conversation back to Disney – and that could be hard to do when faced with such ignorance. Props to her.

We checked in at Le Cellier at 7:10 and was told they were running 10-20 minutes behind schedule, so I had a seat on the floor in the waiting area because I was so tired and feeling even more sick. We were seated smack dab in the middle of the restaurant and according to the receipt had a server named Jennifer but she looked very much like a friend of mine named Lisa. She was from the far East part of the country and we chatted a bit about the various regions and other trivia.

I started with hot herbal tea, which ended up being orange Twinings, hoping it would help my sore throat which was having a lot of post nasal drip by this point. Bill had regular iced tea. The bread then arrived, which was 1 stick each of pretzel bread, whole grain bread and sourdough, supposedly to represent the different regions of Canada. The pretzel is of course the best but I think we devoured all three of them.

For appetizers, we both had the Cheddar Cheese soup with smoked bacon and Moosehead beer. This is a favorite that never gets old. I don’t want to know the fat content, especially because I could easily have a quart of this as a main dish. For the main entrée, I had the 7 oz Filet Mignon, which is glazed with maple BBQ sauce and sits on top of cream cheese mashed potatoes. It’s a small filet and it is served on a huge plate, all alone in the center. Bill had the Mushroom Filet Mignon, which is served on top of wild mushroom risotto and topped with fried parsnips. Both were delicious as usual. Dessert was a duo of sorbets – one raspberry with a single cranberry resting on top, and the other lemon with a crisp slice of caramel on top. Bill had the crème brulee sampler which was half and half of maple crème with caramel maple sugar and cinnamon whipped cream, as well as vanilla bean crème with vanilla whipped cream. Both were very good, although with my cold, I couldn’t taste them as well as usual. Bill also added a dessert Summer Riesling to his order, which was an added 8.41 including 18% gratuity that was automatically added.

We hit it off with the couple next to us when a baby let out a high pitched scream and we heard them say something like, “That’s why we practice birth control”. Since Bill and I don’t want kids, we agreed with their statement and bonded right away, lol. It turned out the woman was from Massachusetts and the man from Ireland, and they were now married and living in MA, which the husband affectionately referred to as “Taxachusetts”. Poor thing was probably caught totally off guard by American income taxes when he moved here! The woman was barely touching her food because she had a terrible migraine. I know all about migraines – I have pills and injections depending on the severity - but only had plain Excedrin Migraine with me today, so I offered her one of those. Sadly, due to the heat of the day, the remaining pills in the bottle had congealed together and she couldn’t get any out. I managed to find one of them in tablet form that hadn’t melted and gave her that. Poor thing, I know all too well what it’s like to have your appetite ruined by a headache.

After dinner we went back to the Canadian shop and made some purchases of maple syrup, maple hard candies, maple chocolate, maple tea bags, some gummi fish, and a bar of whale blubber soap. Total was $42.06 and we behaved and included most of the edibles in the box that was shipped home at the end of the vacation.

On the way out of Epcot, we tried to watch Illuminations from the $10 and under store, but as soon as the show started, all the people who had been quietly seated on the ground stood up, which made it impossible for Bill to see from his wheelchair. He took off towards Mouse Gear while I stayed and watched the show, as I could see better standing up. It was a decent view, but I think I prefer watching from the World Showcase side of the lake.

I met Bill at Mouse Gear and found a new Spectromagic pin that I hadn’t seen before, so I bought that for $11.67. I was feeling awful by this point, so we decided to make it a semi-early (by recent standards) night and I drove us back. I was in bed by 10:30, but not actually asleep until midnight due to Bill leaving on the TV and falling asleep to it. I hate noise when I am trying to fall asleep, yet Bill needs it, so I usually suffer through it, even with earplugs on. I took a strong antihistamine before bed which usually makes me sleep pretty well, but I still got up 3 or 4 times in the night to blow my nose, cough, and drink some water and orange juice.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Today I woke up around 8am. I still felt lousy, so Bill went over to Panchito’s and got me a selection of remedies including Comtrex, Advil, Vicks, Sudafed and Excedrin. You can’t say he doesn’t cover all bases <g>. (Total 29.35). I took 2 Comtrex right away which helped and I was able to get back to sleep until 11:00. I then got up, showered, noticing that there was no soap or shampoo replaced. Since I’d brought a lot of my own cosmetics, I figured the maid must’ve thought that I didn’t want the cheap Disney stuff, so I hid my good stuff to make sure I got new bottles for the rest of the trip.

I did a little updating of the trip report and found that while my sore throat had moved on, I now had lungs full of fluid and couldn’t take full breaths. Bill was using his PDA since there was no internet access on the laptop in the room. He found out that the work he had done for his old company yesterday had stopped working and had to do some sort of repair work.

We left the room by noon and headed to Downtown Disney. I parked at the West End, and right away saw all the construction/destruction going on at Pleasure Island. What a mess. Since I didn’t know the original PI that well, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell what all they did or why they did it later on, but for now, we couldn’t cross the bridge to get over to the Marketplace side without using a temporary path along the parking lot, and I was in no mood to walk that far in the heat with my cold, so I sent Bill to wheel through it and I drove over, meeting him at Earl of Sandwich for lunch.

Earl had the usual mile long line but it moved fast enough. We shared the Earl’s Club, which is a sub-like sandwich with roast turkey, applewood bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and Earl’s sandwich sauce. With the Dining Plan, you also got a pre-packaged dessert (in this case, a piece of yellow cake with rainbow sprinkles on top) and a refillable soda. Total would have been 8.68 and I used 1 counter service credit. We finished the meal off nicely – sadly, my appetite doesn’t seem to decrease enough when I’m sick – and headed out to start shopping. This was our first time at Earl of Sandwich and I think overall it’s a keeper.

I don’t remember the exact order, but we hit the Christmas shop, Art of Disney and World of Disney. Our first big purchase was in WoD where we had a really friendly cast member, Kathleen, helping us. We wanted to get the Big Fig of the Homecoming Celebration, which was from the previous year so we thought it would be wise to buy it now. I think the CMs dread any time someone buys a Big Fig because it means dragging out the bulky box and showing the guests the item to make sure it isn’t broken. At first, she didn’t seem to thrilled to be doing this but as usual, we charmed her with other conversation during the process and by the end it was like we knew eachother’s life stories. It always helps when you say you’re a former Disneyland CM and can relate stories from work. As is typical in Florida, she had been with Disney for many, many years, unlike most Disneyland CMs who are around less than a year. Besides the Big Fig, Bill also bought a cute mantle clock with the Fab Five and a wall tapestry of the Homecoming Celebration which was now marked down. We got our Disney Visa 10% off which brought the total down to 384.94. I had 180.00 worth of Disney Rewards, so I applied that, bringing it even lower to 204.94. Not too bad. These were the heaviest and bulkiest items, so we had them shipped directly home. Shipping was only 15.95 at that time which was a STEAL.

We made a separate purchase of smaller items that we could carry with us including some plush, candy, and various little housewares (Total 94.36). We had that stuff sent back to the hotel.

Our dinner reservations for this evening were early (4:10) because it was Extra Magic Hours evening at Animal Kingdom and I wanted to be sure not to miss seeing that park with the lights on for the first time. It was already 3:30, so we had to hustle to Epcot to make it to L’Originale Alfredo di Roma in time. As always, we parked at Future World, which meant the long, hot, miserable sprint back to World Showcase to Italy. We did make it right at 4:10, checked in and were seated within 5 minutes. The restaurant wasn’t nearly full at this hour but was completely jumping by the time we left.

Our server was from Milan and was very friendly. Some have complained about the service from the Italian cast members before, and I definitely noticed that in the shops, but not in the restaurant. They were all great. Bill started with Calamari. The menu describes this as Calamari fried in special batter and served with a tempura of zucchini, sweet peppers, and apples accompanied by spicy marinara sauce. What he really got was two lemon wedges, breaded zucchini and red pepper, a few squid tentacles covered in batter and marinara sauce served cold. This was obviously prepared ahead of time and just brought out as needed, like an assembly line was going on backstage. Poor Bill was totally unimpressed and even when I tasted it, it was nowhere near the Calamari offering at any decent midrange chain restaurant. My appetizer was a bit better. I had the Mozzarella alla Caprese – 3 chunks of cheese with two red tomatoes, 1 yellow tomato, olives and basil leaves in olive oil. Pretty good, but not spectacular like you might expect in Italy.

Our main courses got better. Bill had the Vermicelli with Tomato Vodka sauce, which came with 6 shrimp. He usually loves the shrimp and pasta dishes served elsewhere, but this one was overly spicy and had too much of a strong pepper after taste. He ate as much as he could. I had to try the signature dish of the house, Le Originali Fettuccine d'Alfredo. Yes, you can get pasta with Alfredo sauce anywhere, but I had to try what was alledgedly “the original”. I received a HUGE plate of pasta covered in cheesy sauce. It was very, very good – the fettucine was cooked properly and the sauce was great because it wasn’t as creamy as most, but more cheesy, as in the cheese actually stretched some like on pizza. I liked it better this way. This was a huge main course, and I can see why it’s also offered as an appetizer in smaller portion size. We were also given a basket with two lousy rolls that were hard as rocks and almost uncuttable with a knife.

As if we weren’t stuffed to the gills already, dessert consisted of a Lemon Mousse for Bill, which had some sort of liquer in it, 1 strawberry and whipped cream. There was a cool, curved chocolate stick as well. I had the chocolate mousse in a cup with whipped cream and a milk and white chocolate stick. Both good, but nothing noteworthy or exceptional for what should be one of WDW’s signature restaurants. Bill had also added a dessert wine, the Moscato D’Asti, for an extra $10.59 on top of what the Dining Plan covered. This is a drink we discovered at California Adventure during the Food and Wine weekends, and while it came from a different vineyard, it was very similar and quite tasty. Our bill would have been 86.96, so this was a good use of the Dining Plan. All in all, an enjoyable dinner, but they could expand the menu selections quite a bit and become more creative as well as NEVER prepare appetizers before they are ordered.

We exited Epcot as fast as possible and made it over to Animal Kingdom by 6pm. The lights were starting to come on and it was beautiful. Such a different park than in the hot, humid daytime. We went back into the Outfitters shop to discuss and make our purchases there that we’d seen earlier, and had another nice, long conversation with a Cast Member about length of tenure. I had caught a glimpse of Linda, a CM we’d seen last year on the parade route, in the back stock room and told the girl we were working with (Paula) how we’d enjoyed her pre-parade warm up speech last year. Paula said that Linda works the parades all the time with her leopard ears on her head. Glad to see that she’s a longtime cast member as well.

We went ahead and bought that Ostrich egg, which had been blown out and painted with a scene from the Lion King. Bill had seen this initially and loved it, and even though it’s not something I would’ve bought on my own, I thought it was very unique and so well done that I thought, “Sure – why not?”. Interestingly enough, it’s an item in our curio cabinet that has garnered more praise than most other things around it. We also purchased a 3-legged stand to hold the egg and a framed print of the entrance to Animal Kingdom at Christmastime that I really liked. Total $273.90 and we had it all shipped directly home.

After our shopping extravaganza, we wanted to ride Everest again, only this time in the dark. The wait was posted at 20 minutes but it was more like 15. It was great to see the queue this time without whizzing through it too fast and we had another great ride using the swing-out wheelchair bench in the back row. Afterwards I went ahead and bought a small resin figurine of the Yeti as well as an Everest postcard from the gift shop – total $18.11. We then used 1 snack credit for a frozen lemonade (it was still plenty warm outside) which, sadly, was not the Minute Maid prepacked variety that we’d wanted.

We sat near Kali River Rapids, sharing the lemonade, and thought we might be able to catch the last Festival of the Lion King show. I asked a cast member when that show was and it was 6:00, so we had already missed it. There wasn’t much else we needed to do, other than see the rest of the park in the dark, so we wandered past the yet-to-be-opened Nemo show and through Dinoland. As tacky as this section is, it was well lit at night and resembled a really clean and safe carnival. I wanted to ride Dinosaur one more time but Bill didn’t, so he waited for me while I hurried through as fast as I could. It really is a much jerkier ride than Indiana Jones, but I can handle it – for now!

After that, we headed towards the exit, stopping in front of the Tree of Life for some gorgeous nighttime pictures. I’d really like to see this park stay open in the dark more often than once a week.

We got back to the hotel before 9:00 and my mother called to check on me and my health. Bill went over to Panchito’s to get some milk, orange juice and coffee for sustenance. Total 13.95. He hates cheap coffee and the ones sold in the canisters under the Disney brand are no exception, but they’re slightly better than the Nescafe all over the resort. I dropped off some laundry in the laundry room which couldn’t have been closer to our room, then went back to the room to wait a little while before returning to move the clothes to the dryer. Since it was a relatively early night for us, we both wanted to try swimming at the Dig Site. We changed into our swim suits and headed over there, but as soon as Bill saw the crowds at the Jacuzzi, he decided to skip it. I hate when he does this, because he denies himself the much-deserved warmth and massage that he needs simply because there’s too many other people around. Now granted, I’m the most anti social being I know, but I’ll still push my way into a crowded public place If it’s a feature that I paid for, lol! So I went ahead and got in and found the temperature to be much too cool, so I didn’t stay long. I then walked around the entire Dig Site area and found some cool nooks and crannies, as well as briefly got in the main pool and the small and MUCH colder wading pool off to the side. It’s a nicely designed pool area, but as with the pools at the other Moderates, there are huge, overhead white lights that ruin the nighttime atmosphere. I understand that they’re simply Disney’s added safety measures since so many kids are at their hotels, but it’s frustrating to an adult who is perfectly capable of not falling and tripping even under regular landscape lighting. At any rate, it was a pleasant atmosphere and I enjoyed the added touches like the flickering light effect at the top of the pyramid, and the rather extensive sandbox play area.

On the way back I checked on the clothes, figuring they’d be partially dry and I’d have to hang them all over the room overnight to get them fully dry. I just can’t pay $2 more than once to dry my clothes. To my great elation, the clothes were bone dry and still hot! Excellent! They either extended the dry time cycle on these machines compared to the ones at CBR or POFQ, or I just got lucky. I folded the clothes, went back to the room, and brought the laptop outside by the quiet pool to check email, took a few pictures, and went to bed.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

This morning, the alarm went off at 7:30 and I hit the snooze button at least 4 times before finally getting up and out the door by 8:45. This was our first morning of slightly cooler weather and it was MUCH less humid – our moods were instantly improved!

We headed over to Old Key West, planning to use counter service credits for a breakfast. I wasn’t familiar with OKW’s offerings other than Olivia’s, which would have been a table service credit, so I went into the gift shop, which has a small section called Goods to Go. Thinking this might be all they had, I asked which items qualified for snack credits. There were lots of options here, so I took a large bag of Cheetos and a small soymilk. Finally! Soy milk at Disney! Something slightly healthier that I could even get on the snack plan. I was quite pleased.

We went outside to wander around a bit (I just love the atmosphere here) and finally found the counter service location. I ordered a breakfast croissant with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese plus an orange juice. They didn’t have any dessert selections to go along with the credit, but that was fine. The eggs were prepared fresh, which was a wonderful treat over the usual bins of food you see at the food courts with the caked glaze on them. So much better! Another thumbs up for OKW. We shared the meal while sitting at a table with a water view, I took a few pictures of the pool area, and we headed off for Universal Studios.

We arrived at Universal, paid our ten bucks to park, and I got Bill a Starbucks in Citywalk. As a non coffee drinker, I have no skills at how much sugar and cream should be added, but this morning, Bill said that I had made it perfectly.

We started with Islands of Adventure. There were no crowds or lines anywhere which was wonderful. Going counterclockwise for a change, our first ride was the new High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. I was so glad that they finally made use of the tracks which had been in place since the park opened. The ride seems to have two sides which go into slightly different areas, and only one side was open. We both thought it was very well done and cute. I could see the potential for a lot of maintenance since many of the scenes are in the direct sun, but hopefully they will keep up on that.

Next up was the Fire side of Dueling Dragons. The queue is so beautiful and detailed, but it was horrible for Bill to steer his ECV through in almost total darkness and on very rough pavement. There really should be a direct route for the handicapped so they don’t have to raise their blood pressures just getting to the loading zone! The ride was very good, and I think I like this side slightly better than the Ice side.

We then stopped at Thunder Falls for a tortilla & roast tomato soup for me. It had no chicken in it, and was very spicy, which was just what I needed to help break through my cold. There was noone in the restaurant and the A/C was on full blast, so it was lovely.

I checked out Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges, which had been closed the first time I came to IOA, but decided against it because I didn’t want to get soaked. We rode Spiderman instead, which was fun as always. We liked the shop at the end of the ride, but it didn’t have any Spiderman figurines, so we looked around in surrounding stores to try to find one. An employee had suggested the Comics store which was loaded with great stuff, but still no Spideys. No problem, it wasn’t a critical need.

On the way out of the Park, we checked the main gift shop for a safari hat for Bill, who was still desperately trying to cover his ears and neck from the sun. Nothing was exactly right, so we passed and headed back over to Universal Studios.

Bill got himself a gourmet s’more in the first candy store we saw when we walked in - $3.15. The store was completely empty of any guest and the poor employees were bored to tears. GREAT for guests, lousy for business, I’m sure.

The Mummy was finally open so we went on that. All I can say is WOW – what an awesome, perfect ride! We both absolutely loved it. I would have ridden many more times but it’s hard to get in and out of the wheelchair that much for Bill.

I wanted to hit E.T. one more time, so I did that by myself while Bill wandered through more shops and then back to the van ahead of me. I remember it being a very long walk back to the car and that all my muscles were very sore from the days and days of touring the parks.

We stopped at a Walgreens on International Dr. to get more cold remedies and we also found good aqua shoes for Bill that were only 9.99, much less than at Blizzard Beach but with no WDW logos. Oh well. He also picked up a new pill box for his medication at 9.99 as well as a bottled Frappucino.

Since it was so late in the day already, we went straight to the Magic Kingdom, arriving at about 2:00. The Monorail ride took longer than usual but we finally made it to Pecos Bill by 2:45. Bill had a cheeseburger, fries, Coke and applesauce while I got the chicken wrap with fries, apple juice and applesauce. This was the usual two counter service credits and I was delighted that I had my choice of either a small OR large apple juice on the plan. The new Dreams Come True day parade went by as we dined inside, so I walked outside to see what I could from the obscured viewing area. It was basically the same old parade minus the snowglobes and with the new Tokyo music. The soundtrack wasn’t all that hot – it was one of those typical Tokyo Disneyland nonstop lyric laden songs that just never let up, like a 33rpm record being played at 45rpm. I’m sure it works well with the guests, but it was more of an energy fest than anything emotional, which is what I usually prefer in my parades. The Chimney Sweeps had a decently choreographed routine, which was a pleasure to see after being used to such hideous blocking from Florida parades. The worst part of all, however, were the girl CMs working at Pecos Bill who simply dropped everything to watch the parade themselves and acted like crazed teenage fans waving and screaming at the performers as if they were at a Madonna concert in 1985. It was totally unprofessional and just looked ridiculous.

After lunch, I got us Fast Passes for Splash Mountain. We then rode the Haunted Mansion and I finally got to see the ring embedded in the pavement which has since been removed. It wasn’t really a ring, just a leftover marker from a previous queue pole, but whatever.

We did Small World next which had a much longer line than usual. There was a huge lineup of wheelchair parties and I actually felt bad for the other guests as we received priority treatment. After that, I got Peter Pan Fast Passes and then rode Snow White while Bill went to the smoking area by the Castle and into the Castle shop. During Snow White, the ride vehicle stopped repeatedly, probably from too many cars on the track, but I actually enjoyed it because it gave me more time to study the scenes.

I found Bill in the main collectibles shop inside the Castle and looked around with him but didn’t purchase anything. Now that the Liberty Belle was back on the River, I wanted to try it out and it was a lovely, peaceful ride. Bill made a mini spectacle by bumping into the ramp with his chair, but he sometimes gets to the point where he can’t concentrate on driving anymore so I’m glad that we had the boat time for him to recuperate. Unfortunately, there were just as many scenes and effects around the River that were broken or non-operational as there are in Disneyland.

I next offered either the Hall of Presidents or the Tiki Room to Bill, and he chose the Tiki Room *if* a Dole Whip would be included in the process ? I got Bill the whip, then wandered over to the Sunshine Tree Terrace to see what they had but didn’t get anything, and met at the Tiki entrance. We waited quite a while for the next show, which always seems to happen to us there.

Afterwards we looked through the Agrabah shops and finally found a hat that would work for Bill. It wasn’t Disney themed but it worked quite well. Total was $34.08. I then used the Peter Pan FP by myself, but we never did make it back to Splash to use those FP’s. Oh well.

We met at Tony’s Town Square for our dinner reservation at 7:10. Well, I thought it was 7:10. But when I got there, I found an embarrassed Bill telling me that it had actually been at 6:00. Oops – another fumble on my part. They seated us anyway at about 7:30, which we both appreciated. There are a lot of bad comments about this restaurant published in books and online, but we had a pleasant experience. I already knew that despite the subdued décor, the ambiance would actually be chaotic due to the number of children present. The lobby is a zoo, but the dining room itself was totally manageable. Our server, Dayna, was very friendly. I had hoped to be seated outside for a good Spectromagic view but that didn’t happen.

I started with hot tea for my throat and Bill had an iced tea. Dayna brought out the box of herbal teas and I took one peppermint and one orange flavor. Bill then asked for the wine list and Dayna made a joke like, “Sure, I’ll have that right up for you.” She was kidding, because as we all know (or thought we knew!) there is no alcohol served in the MK. It took us both forever to figure out her sarcasm and why we never did receive that wine list!

I started with a salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It was mixed greens, 3 large cherry tomatoes, some crumbled Feta cheese, and soft croutons that were actually more like garlic bread. Bill had the spinach artichoke dip, made with 3 cheeses and, unfortunately, a few too many chunks of garlic. For the entree, I had the traditional spaghetti and meatballs – after all, I was trying to make like Lady and Tramp in their namesake restaurant. Most of the reviews for this dish were pretty mediocre – that the sauce was from a can and the meatballs had no unique taste. I was actually pleased with it. It was two meatballs on top of a mound of pasta served with a garlic bread stick, and true, the sauce was most likely Buitoni (the sponsor of this location) and by no means homemade, but since I was prepared for that ahead of time, I simply enjoyed the meal. The menu price was $18.99 which is, quite simply, a joke for what I ate, but as long as the Dining Plan was paying, I was OK with it. Bill ordered the New York Strip Steak. I wouldn’t trust a run of the mill theme park restaurant to do a steak properly, but I didn’t open my mouth. Bill likes his steaks and I didn’t want to keep him from enjoying a meal. The menu describes this as a steak with roasted potatoes, mushrooms, carmelized onions, and spinach tossed in a warm pancetta vinaigrette and topped with red wine gorgonzola butter. Pretty fancy, eh? What was delivered was a basic steak that was much too well done for the Medium that Bill had requested, over wilted greens or spinach and with potato chunks off to the side. The described butter was there on top of the steak, although whether it had wine and/or gorgonzola in it was questionable.

Near our table, a girl was celebrating her birthday with her parents. The servers gathered around and asked us all to wave our napkins in the air and blow an Italian kiss, both of which I thought were cute. She was given a cake, and her father noticed Bill staring lovingly at it and offered him a bite but of course he declined.

Dessert had been reduced to ONE item for those on the Dining Plan – either you accepted it, or got nothing. I’m looking at a menu printed from allears.net dated April 2006, and here it was only 5 months later and the six choices listed were nonexistent. Another sign of cost cutting that really irritated me. The dessert offered was a group of 3 sample-sized portions of different things but I didn’t write down what they were. I was obviously disappointed at this point and didn’t feel like writing it out. Bill also ordered a coffee as his third beverage of the evening, but it was still included. Despite the various snafus associated with this meal, we still enjoyed ourselves and I was particularly fond of the atmosphere. I sure wish Disneyland had a full service restaurant in Town Square!

I had caught a small bit of Spectromagic from the restaurant entrance but it was a bad view, so we headed out, swimming upstream against the crowds and made it back to Coronado Springs. I checked the remaining times for the Comedy Warehouse that night, thinking we might be able to still make it. I then went over to Panchitos to pick up all the packages we had been sending to the hotel, but forgot my room key. This meant that I could not drive the van back into the parking area AND I had all those merchandise bags with me. I placed them in the van, then grabbed a golf cart shuttle back to the room, then walked back to the entrance to get the van and bring it back in the gates. What a pain. I then called Carol, who plays piano at the Comedy Warehouse, to let her know we wanted to come to the 11:15 show that night. She had told us ahead of time to call her when we were coming so that she could get us preferred seats. She didn’t answer at first, but called right back and let me know that she wasn’t working tonight because her father had just had emergency brain tumor surgery. Completely random and quite sad. We agreed to chat the following night to see if she would be back to work.

Bill went outside to use the laptop and I did my periodic reconciliation of receipts and checkbook entries to get caught up with our spending. I then typed the basics of the day’s report in the laptop, paid a couple bills online, and paid for an ebay item I had won that day – a great bisque figurine from 1990 that, sadly, arrived broken into pieces at my home a week later.

By this time, I had received an email invitation to complete a survey from the Hilton Grand Vacations Club stay. I decided to do it right then, making sure to complain heavily about the lack of integrity on the part of the housekeeping staff who “kept” my battery charger. I never did receive a word back from Hilton on this.

Friday, September 29, 2006

This morning I was up at 9 and we were out the door by 10. I’m sure Bill was up much earlier and just hung around the room playing with the laptop and drinking coffee waiting for my slow behind to get in gear.

We went to MGM and noticed it was much more crowded today – beginning of the weekend, I guess. We had breakfast at the ABC Commissary because I think it is the only location in the Park that has hot breakfast items. It ended at 10:30 but we made it by 10:15 thankfully. Bill had the Parfait Meal – a small yogurt with a very deep yellow color and a weird taste along with granola and mixed berries. This also came with a muffin, small orange juice and coffee. I had the buttermilk pancakes with bacon and a small orange juice. The portions were flat out miniscule. I would have been furious if I had paid for this! The interior of the restaurant was really nice, however, and I walked around taking pictures of the various show props and posters of ABC shows that I liked.

We then took in the Little Mermaid show which was a madhouse of children as usual. And also as usual, the show is too short and too choppy to do the original story justice, but it packs the people in show after show which is what they want. I’d like to see this get a much more dignified treatment in a bigger theatre with fewer performances per day, but I don’t see it happening.

We had been given the task of finding T-shirts with the “Binford Tools” logo on it from “Home Improvement” to bring back to a friend and cast member from Disneyland. We looked everywhere and even called her to ask where she had seen them and came up empty handed. We finally asked Guest Relations, and they told us that that merchandise would be found in the EFI Store, which was at the exit of the Studio Tram Tour. We went back there, but didn’t see any store. Luckily, we ran into the park merchandise manager who was a complete blessing. She was obviously a lesbian so we bonded right away, and even moreso when we learned that she had lived in San Francisco during the Loma Prieta quake, which was the same as Bill had done. They were able to share their experiences about losing everything and having to start over fresh. She also had been a cast member at Disneyland, so she and I were able to chat about the politics there. All in all a very fun interaction. She led us straight to a cart where lo and behold they had the Binford shirts among other cute Binford merchandise. The cart didn’t have the right size, but we then finally did find the actual EFI store, which had the bulk of the Binford stuff. We hadn’t seen it because it’s really not visible unless you take the Tram ride first. Two shirts and $44.72 later, we had completed our task.

We then rode Rock & Roller Coaster and were offered to stay in the car for a second ride but I declined. I can’t do this one more than once in a row; I just get too dizzy. Too bad, too, since it’s in air conditioning and in the dark, my favorite things. I had wanted to see Beauty & the Beast but the times did not line up in our favor and it was much too hot to wait around for the next show, so we left the Park.

We drove to Disney Quest and spent a little while there. I knew that this was slated for replacement some time down the line so I wanted to see it one more time while I could. Bill was excited about doing CyberSpace Mountain again, but was quickly disappointed when he saw that it wasn’t wheelchair friendly. Instead, we did the virtual Aladdin flying carpet thing which made me TOTALLY nauseous. I really hate virtual anything; I prefer to actually move around and travel through rides, and my brain lets me know just that by getting queasy. I think what really did it were the helmets that you wear during the game – they were filthy dirty and smelled of other people’s skin cells. You know that smell of human flesh that’s not actual dirt, but still stinks? Yep, that was it. It was really unsanitary and all they had to do was get some Lysol wipes. Seemed simple enough.

After that I had to sit down in the Cheesecake Factory Express. We shared a chili cheese fries and large Coke ($7.46) and I tried to recover as best I could. I was able to enjoy playing a few of the classic 80’s video games they had there, but most games were in poor repair and Bill was bored, so we didn’t stay too long. I’m not sure why we didn’t do the Pirates attraction though, unless it had wheelchair issues as well.

Back at the hotel, we were able to rest a whopping 20 minutes or so before we had to get to Coral Reef for dinner at 4:50. It was the only time they had when I called. We did make it in time and the restaurant was gorgeous, although way too noisy with kids. It’s obviously a trend at WDW that these beautiful dining spaces are littered with noise and chaos simply due to the clientele of Disney. Oh well.

I started with the Seafood Souffle – again, not on the October 2005 menu so it must be new. This was like a loaf of mixed fish topped with cream and bits of onion. It was right there on the border of good and gross. I ate it, but probably wouldn’t get it again. It was in the shape of a cat food can, like someone had just turned it upside down, dumped it on a plate, and covered it with cream. Really not that bad, but not my thing to mix fish either. Bill did NOT want to taste it. He had the creamy lobster soup with chervil and brandy, and didn’t care for it because it was too fishy. I think I finished as much of it as I could for him.

Our server Jonathan was very friendly and energetic, and brought our warm sourdough bread slices which were very good. Throughout this trip, we never felt like we received any type of substandard service because we were on the Dining Plan. I really think it’s more about the way you treat your server than the method by which you pay for your meal.

For my entrée, I tried the Blackened Catfish. This was served over pepper jack cheese grits with smoked tomato compote and balsamic glaze. Very good, although as with all fish, it can never be too well done for me. Bill ordered the Seared Salmon which came with guacamole on top and a bed of rice with peas and carrots. Different from the Salmon dish listed on the 2005 menu as well. The salmon was undercooked for Bill’s taste so I made him send it back for a little bit more fire. It still came back too raw in the middle but was crispy on the edges, so he made do with that and didn’t finish. Poor thing – any time he is served fish that’s remotely raw, he immediately gets a sour stomach that takes hours to remedy. Same thing happened with salmon at the Napa Rose in California, so I guess he’ll be off of fish for a few months.

We both had iced tea to drink, but Bill also added a glass of Alsace white wine, which came to $11.53 with tax and tip. I was noticing that this is a fairly dark restaurant with spotlights directed only at the tables, which I liked. It made the view of the fish tank that much more stunning. We were at the farthest row from the tank due to the wheelchair, but it was still a nice view. I did walk down to the bottom level to take a few pictures of the fish and the environs which came out good. The divers were in the tank at this time, and I really enjoyed watching the sharks, giant turtle and the stingray.

For dessert I had the Chocolate Wave, a small chocolate cake with Grand Marnier and white chocolate center. It was OK but not as divine as Jonathan made it out to be. It also came with a side cup of white chocolate ice cream. Bill had the butterscotch crème brulee. We really couldn’t taste any butterscotch and at first, Bill had said, “Is this really what I ordered?” but we just accepted it. The total bill was around $101 so this was a good use of dining credits.

With our full bellies, I thought it would be a good time to ride the Universe of Energy and potentially score a few z’s. No disrespect meant to Ellen; I just knew it was a 45 minute sitting ride and would be nice and cool and relaxing, which it was. I’d recently read on a great Universe of Energy website all about the history of the attraction and specifically how many show elements were now not working or removed. It was depressing to think that I wasn’t getting the full show from 1982 but I tried to enjoy it as best I could.

As we exited, I took some pictures of the Wonders of Life entrance and paid my respects to another abandoned and out of date pavilion. Who would’ve thought that it would open one more time this past winter? I would have considered changing our dates so I could see it one last time.

We then got Fast Passes for Test Track and bill went to the van to drop off our hats while I rode Spaceship Earth. I met Bill at the Art of Disney where we found more great stuff that we wanted to buy later that wasn’t in the other Art shops.

This was the opening day of the Food & Wine festival. We walked over to Canada and had to partake of the cheese soup and maple crème with almonds. There was no maple fudge this year which disappointed Bill. I am still intrigued by the Beaver Tails that I’d read about in other trip reports but never got to try in Canada. I see the booth is still there, but it looks permanently shuttered, which is a waste. The cast members at the F&W booth were having fun and being energetic. Every time someone ordered the cheese soup, someone would yell out, “Another order for Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup” followed by all of the men saying “Yeah!!” in unison. It was cool. Then again, at the same time I was thinking to myself I wonder if cheese soup is really a Canadian trademark and if all these natives were really just making fun of us for ordering it!

We found good wheelchair seating for Illuminations over in front of Italy, so Bill parked there while I went out in search of drinks. I got Bill a cappuccino flavored Granita after waiting forever for it, but as I took it back to Bill and tasted it, it was horrible. Completely sour. I let Bill try it, thinking maybe I just wasn’t a cappuccino aficionado, but he agreed it was disgusting. The show was starting, and I didn’t want to miss anything so we both watched, Bill from his special area and me from nearby. We both had excellent views and he loved it this time. Afterwards, I decided I wasn’t going to be the silent guest and went back to return the Granita. The girls working there looked at me like I was crazy but finally gave me a lemon one in exchange. This had cost only $3.02 which was really cheap compared to a similar refreshment at Disneyland that would probably be about 4.50.

In Norway, I rode Maelstrom while Bill perused the shops. I couldn’t find the hidden Mickey in the wall mural but enjoyed the ride just the same. We wanted to get in the bakery but Bill couldn’t make it through the door and it was too crowded so we skipped it for the time being. Instead, we continued counterclockwise and I got a pollo & chorizo quesadilla at the Mexico booth. They had a new system this year where you pay one person and receive a laminated card to hand to the people preparing the food. In design, this should have sped up the lines but it was painfully slow tonight and I felt bad for making Bill wait for me so long. In exchange, we then went to the Florida Shrimp booth and got Bill a single grilled shrimp with ginger using a snack credit. Good value here, as the menu price was 4.25. Bill liked it very much, and left the garnish fluff that accompanied the shrimp on his plate.

I went to ride Imagination during what was now Extra Magic Hours, but Bill was so tired that his eyes were beginning to cross. I sent him to the van with the keys so he could lie down while I went on the Land boat ride. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the revised ride with no human narrator, but the recorded narration was very well done and I liked the ride just as much as before.

I headed back to Image Works to pick up a few Figment souvenirs – total $35.09. Bill called me on my way back to the van asking for milk, but I thought it would be smarter to pick it up at the Hess station instead, which we did, along with some half & half and an ice cream bar to settle his stomach.

We made it back to the hotel by 11:30 where, coincidentally, “Home Improvement” was on TV. I typed my updates while watching the show and got to bed after midnight, which seemed to be the norm on this trip.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I was up at 8:30 and we were at Blizzard Beach by 9. I wanted Bill to at least get a sampling of this great park, considering we paid all that extra for the Water Parks option, even though he wouldn’t be feeling up to riding any slides. There was a small line to get in but once we did, we got a locker right away and took a full loop ride around the lazy river. We both enjoyed that as it was virtually empty.

Bill then went to a trusty smoking area while I rode 3 separate slides on the “purple” section of slopes. All were fun, but Bill obviously wasn’t going to ride anything else so we headed out as a TON of new guests were arriving.

We both showered back at the room and I made a reservation for Olivia’s for that night at 6:00. We had originally been booked for Fulton’s Crab House, but I thought we’d make use of our last Table Service credit tonight instead. Tomorrow, I had booked Cape May for breakfast and Teppanyaki for lunch, planning on an either/or decision that morning, but at this moment, neither one sounded that appealing. I did cancel Cape May on the same phone call, but kept Teppanyaki just in case.

For an early lunch today, I wanted to do the Boardwalk Pizza Window again, which had been so great last year. Sadly, I couldn’t say the same this year. Talk about a major quality decline, and in only one year! I ordered a single slice of pepperoni which was absolutely drowning in grease, and a lemonade. Last year, as part of a counter service credit, we also had options of a salad as an appetizer as well as a choice of dessert. No salad option at all this year, and the dessert was either a brownie or nothing. No great carrot cake from last trip. I was horribly disappointed.

We were in the area to go to the Swan for the NFFC show that day, so I thought we’d walk over and find a shady place to eat along the way. I took us the wrong way past the Beach Club which ended up causing a nice mile long hike around the lake to finally get to the Swan. Luckily, Bill was in his wheelchair so distance didn’t matter, but I was hot and cranky and not pleased. We stopped on a bench near the Beach Club pool to eat and then continued on to the Swan.

We paid our $5 each to get into the show. Mouse Surplus had brought some of their larger artifacts like a car from Mr. Toad and some large plastic figurines of Mickey and Minnie that used to be in store displays. There was only one ballroom full of seller tables at this inaugural Orlando show, and it was clearly not as big of a show as the usual in California. I guess it takes several years to gain the same word of mouth as we have out here. At any rate, it was fun to see the event duplicated in the South, although there was nothing at all to buy.

We made it back to the hotel by 2:15 and I did some more laundry. It was time to pack up and ship all our souvenirs, so I checked online for a nearby FedEx dropoff location, which turned out to be the Kinko’s on Apopka Vineland Rd. I was still having second thoughts about our dinner for the evening, so I pulled up the menus of both Olivia’s and the Cape May clambake buffet and showed them to Bill. He really had no preference, but I called up and changed Olivia’s to Cape May. The earliest time left was 8:50, but I didn’t mind considering it was a last minute decision. I never did remember to cancel Fulton’s – sorry to a party of two who may have wanted that table!

At 3:00 I moved the clothes to the dryer, and a short while later we left for the Magic Kingdom, arriving around 4:00. There were almost 5 hours before dinner left, so we had a late lunch at the Columbia Harbor House. I am crazy for chicken fingers and strips, so I wanted to try this place for the first time. We split the combination chicken and fish strips which came with fries. Again, on the Dining Plan, there was a single choice for dessert – chocolate cake. And not a nice slice on a WDW plate, but a prepackaged little bundt thing obviously made many miles from Lake Buena Vista and delivered to the premises. More disappointment in that arena. At least the fried items were good and there was plenty of vinegar, tartar sauce and sweet & sour available. The beverage was sweet tea – a sure sign that we were in the South!

The Hall of Presidents had reopened from it’s rehab so we did that. I was looking for signs of what may have been accomplished during the downtime but the only thing visible to me was a possible replacement of carpet. The show was good as usual. We then got Fast Passes for Space Mountain, and rode the Carousel of Progress during the waiting time. I finally saw some signs of refurbishment in here. The carpet and seats were completely new in our auditorium. I knew that the original plan was to redo one auditorium at a time but I had always gotten an old one and finally believed that they weren’t doing them at all, but apparently I was just getting the wrong one every time. The only problem with the replacement seats is that they were completely plastic! Not sturdy metal like the old ones, but plastic all the way through. Same unique greenish color even. I’m sure most won’t notice this, but talk about taking the cheapest way out possible!

I then rode the TTA while Bill smoked. By then, our Space Mountain FP’s were good so we did that, with Bill getting the front row of the car. It was getting closer to our dinner time, so I decided we’d take the bus from the MK over to the Beach Club for a change. I like the idea of not having to take a boat or Monorail back to my car every time, plus I was tired and still sick and didn’t feel like loading the wheelchair back into the van just for the trip to dinner. The bus was there waiting which was nice. It is quite a procedure to load an ECV, though, because they strap him in almost as much as on the airplane. Hooks here, seatbelts there, as if he’s going to have a seizure and break out of it or something. Such overkill, but I understand it’s the rules. It was a long, cold, slow bus ride, but we made it to the BC with 5 minutes to spare.

We’d never been to Cape May but I’m so glad that we did. This was one of the better meals of the whole trip, which I wasn’t expecting from a buffet. I started with hot tea, again trying to soothe my sore throat, and Bill had his usual iced tea. The buffet had many choices – clams in the shell, mussels, peel and eat shrimp with drawn butter, baby back ribs, roast chicken, salmon, broccoli, long stemmed green beans, yellow squash, mashed potatoes and gravy, a couple pasta choices, as well as a kid’s section with macaroni and cheese, Mickey shaped pasta, mini hot dogs and chicken tenders. Then there were a ton of salads like chicken salad, mushroom salad, cottage cheese, melon slices, pineapple, and various pasta salads. The clam chowder offered was great – not overly creamy and with lots of clams and herbs. Most of the clam shells were empty, but since it was a buffet, you could just scoop up a whole plate of the shells and find what meat was there back at your table. Just writing about this meal exactly 3 months after I had it makes me want to go back. There is a separate dessert area with things like German Chocolate cake, Key Lime tarts, Strawberry Shortcake , Flan, and Oatmeal Raisin cookies, all of which I put on a plate for Bill to sample. I wasn’t interested in sweets; I just wanted more of the hot food! By that point, I had spilled something on my tank top and already looked like a pig, so I didn’t need to continue onto dessert. Thankfully, this felt like a true Disney restaurant to me with no signs of financial cutbacks. If there were, I certainly didn’t see any.

After dinner, I took a few pictures of the lobby areas and we went to the gift shop. There was an adorable Mickey table lamp with a beachy theme, but not for $250. Instead, Bill got himself a Mickey t-shirt that he liked and hadn’t seen anywhere else. Total $25.56. They had nice hotel logo merchandise here, but it was mostly too expensive for this trip, plus we weren’t staying at the hotel, so it wouldn’t have meant much.

For the bus ride back, we only had to wait a few minutes and had a much better, faster ride back to the MK. Drivers in both directions were very friendly and courteous, especially with the ECV handling. It was an older bus on the ride back and the lift system was quite different, but both worked equally well.

Back at the MK, we swam upstream down Main Street to the smoking area behind the Christmas Shop in Liberty Square while I looked in the shop one last time. The shop was completely ravaged inside from a day’s worth of guests – filthy floors, empty shelves, and general disarray. The Minnie tree toppers were again gone, so they must sell quite a few of these every day. I wanted to get a couple nice nighttime shots of the Castle and Partners statue at the hub, which was easy to do at this hour as most guests were leaving. It was almost time for the second Spectromagic at 11:00, so we found the wheelchair seating area for that around the hub and waited. Even though we were tired at this late hour, it was worth waiting for the second parade as it’s much less crowded. The parade itself was a little disappointing because the Chernabog float was completely missing as well as the Carousel float from the finale unit. Working in parades for 6 years, I’m well aware of last minute snafus that can happen backstage, but it’s still disappointing when you only get to see this parade once every couple years.

There was nothing else we needed to do, so we headed out, skipping the enormous line for ice cream on Main Street. It still baffles me how long guests will wait for simple Dreyers/Edy’s ice cream that can be purchased at any store for ¼ of the price with no wait. I guess there’s just something about having it scooped out for you in a theme park that makes it worthwhile. The Monorail back to the van was extremely fast and efficient tonight.

We started to pack up the room when we got back, and I had major problems typing my updates because the laptop kept crashing for some reason. I made it to bed by about 1am.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Sadly, we were up, packed and checked out by about 10am. I am the type who likes to stay in the hotel room until the absolute last minute of checkout available, but Bill is always in a rush so I basically split the difference.

We said goodbye to Coronado Springs as I thought to myself, “I’ll be sticking with Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach in the future” quietly ? Our first stop was Planet Hollywood at Pleasure Island for an early lunch. Since it was early, there was no wait and we were seated quickly. The only reason I came here was because of a coupon that came with our package which gave us one free appetizer with the purchase of an entree. With the closing of the two PH locations nearest my house in California, I’d always considered the chain to be a failure. Not that it wasn’t decorated cool on the inside, but the menu was so lackluster. It takes more than flashy lights and movie memorabilia to make a great restaurant – same thing with Hard Rock Cafes. The wheelchair entrance is much different than the regular stairway up, so we ended up passing by the employee locker and time clock area and it stunk of old food. I wasn’t impressed.

We ordered the Spinach Dip to share as an appetizer which was good, as they usually are. Bill had his iced tea and I had water. The main meal, which we split, was a mushroom onion swiss burger. As I recall it was very good, came with a side of fries, and had the requisite Planet Hollywood wooden stick in the middle of the burger. I don’t remember much else about the meal since I wasn’t looking forward to going back home, was still sick, and was tired from being up and out of the hotel already. From what I can gather, we only paid about $8.99 plus tax and tip for this meal.

Another tiny (and I do mean tiny!) incentive on the Package was a “free gift” with purchase at the gift shop. Bill found a nice t-shirt that he liked, and the freebie was a very tiny PH keychain. The thing is so lightweight, you don’t even feel it in the palm of your hand. But hey, it was free, and it worked as intended because Bill wouldn’t have bought that t-shirt if we hadn’t had a coupon for the gift shop!

Afterwards, Bill took his wheelchair towards the Marketplace and I drove over. There was no way I had the energy to walk at that hour. We checked most of the shops again, trying to decide on some final purchases. The first one was a Pin Trader Marie Osmond doll in the Art of Disney. The store was terribly short staffed and there was a group of French folks who were inquiring about a gorgeous Evil Queen painting. They wanted to know the price and if it could be shipped back to France. They didn’t seem to mind the price, but they were all very nervous about actually buying it. I think they ended up putting it on hold so they could talk about it some more. This process took forever, but finally I got my little doll. The reason I bought it was because it was on clearance for only 39.99 and came with little Epcot pins signifying the various lands of Future World. I thought that was unique in itself so I couldn’t resist. Total with tax and shipping back home = $48.94. We also discovered the new series of four Tinkerbell resin figurines with her in a pose with each season of the year. They were gorgeous, but since they weren’t WDW exclusives, I decided to wait and hope they would make it to Disneyland so I could buy them there. (Update January 2007: they finally arrived in Anaheim!)

*Side note – the shipping charges from WDW to my home were excellent values. It was almost better to go ahead and pay than to even consider putting stuff in my own suitcase. $8.95 for a breakable doll (that they would insure) and $15.95 for a Big Fig were great deals. Sadly, almost as soon as we returned home, Disney raised the shipping charges resort wide. They are now almost laughable, and there’ll be no more using their services at all, whether it saves on the sales tax or not. Too bad.

We stopped in Goofy’s Candy Co. and I was able to get both a cotton candy and an apple-cranberry Minute Maid bottled drink using snack credits. I’m so glad you’re no longer restricted to things like popcorn and soda only!

Next was TAILS, the pet supplies store. Bill found a couple cute pillows that he bought to give to co workers as well as a couple of toys for our own cats at home. He had these shipped as well, for a total of $50.93.

That was enough of Downtown Disney, so we then beelined over to Epcot for one last hurrah. We went into the Art of Disney there and I saw that there were still leftover pieces of the Dreamfinder and Figment from the release & signing event of the piece that had happened a few weeks prior. I was thrilled, so I had to get that. It was a tough decision too, because I saw a great pin set from the Imagination Ride too that was equally attractive, but as usual, I went with the figurines. This was an expensive one at $199, but only available at WDW so I couldn’t help myself. Total with shipping was $235.00. He’s now proudly displayed in the curio cabinet.

Bill had one more stop to make at Mouse Gear to look for gifts for one of his clients, so I went on Spaceship Earth one more time while he did that. We met up afterward and he had found the perfect gift – 3 different baseballs with various WDW logos and characters. Perfect for a baseball lover who wouldn’t actually want to play with them, just display them.

We headed out of Epcot for the last time and went to the airport. I dropped Bill off at the Delta terminal, and then left the property to return the van at the offsite Thrifty location. It was easy to find, but it was almost unbelievable when I saw the 50 or so cars that had been returned and were now waiting to be washed and sent back out – all in the bright, hot sun, and all covered with Love Bugs! I felt SO bad for the poor unfortunate souls who worked there and had to spend all day cleaning cars in that heat. I would have passed out on the first day. Anyway, the return process was quick and efficient and I was on my way back to the airport via their shuttle in no time.

When I arrived, we discovered that our 5:55 flight had been delayed until 7:30. Great. We could have spent that much more time on property. We had plenty of time to enjoy a lovely Burger King dinner, though <g>. We did take off at 7:40, close to what they predicted, and arrived back in Los Angeles at 9:30. Again, I left Bill at the terminal while I took the shuttle back to our car in the remote lot.

Totally different scene than Orlando. I usually park at nearby hotels and use their shuttles when flying in or out of LAX. Not this time. What I was subjected to made me sick. The shuttle took forever to arrive, with every other shuttle coming first. When it finally did show up, every possible inch of space was taken, all by non-English speaking folks, many of whom were obviously airport employees. The bus itself was old and worn down. After the harrowing ride to the lot, more horror ensued. Of course, the 50 or so people on the bus all now needed to exit the pay parking lot at the same time. I rushed to my car as fast as possible but still ended up in a long checkout line. There were two lines so of course I took the shorter one. Well, as I got closer, an employee comes up to the car and says, “You’re paying cash, right?” Of course I wasn’t, and he then proceeds to tell me I’m in the cash line and need to move over. I told him he’d better clear a space for me to merge, then. There were no signs anywhere, just a dirty, old, cracked pavement lot. I was fuming by this point – there was no reason to have separate lines. It was probably because the other credit card slider was broken - I wouldn’t be surprised considering the “upkeep” of this parking lot. I could hear people behind me becoming irate also as the guy made his way down making all the credit card people move over. Honestly, who has 85 bucks cash with them at the end of a vacation to pay for parking? It was just asinine. The process in line took a full half hour. I called Bill a couple times to apologize and felt horrible leaving him at LAX in the noise and traffic outside. I told him I was embarrassed at my own city for having such a disgusting parking lot – not even a third party lot but one supposedly owned BY the actual airport – and full of socially degenerate people to boot. If I was arriving to LA as a tourist, I would have turned around and gone home right then and there.

Finally on the road, I called my mom to tell her we made it and explain about the delay, but I was still feeling sick and was losing my voice. Bill needed a beverage badly, so we stopped in Fullerton (roughly halfway home) and I didn’t know where to find anything that was still open. Even the gas station was closed. I was extremely crabby and wanted to get home, but finally went to a Jack in the Box drive thru and got him a soda.

We made it home, said hello to the animals and not much else. I was in bed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:00, but that’s 4:00AM in Florida time, so I was beyond ready. Thankfully, we were both off from work the next day and were able to unpack and recuperate in peace.

Final Thoughts

All in all, it was another great trip. By having Bill’s personal ECV with us, I was able to last much longer in the Parks and had more stamina throughout because I wasn’t pushing anyone around. My bad cold put a major damper on things, but I wasn’t willing to succumb to it, so I didn’t really miss anything; I just had to see things in pain <g>.

The Dining Plan was again a great value, but it seriously hinders your plans by making you be in certain parks at certain times, even when it’s not convenient. Since most of the good restaurants are in Epcot, we were there almost every night even if we wanted to be at other Parks for other events. If you happen to include Universal in your vacation plans, Mamma Della’s is so far superior to any Disney restaurant (setting aside the premier ones which take 2 Dining credits) that you won’t mind spending the extra money one bit.

The Food & Wine festival is a great event and I’m so glad we caught a little bit of it again this year.

It was a bit of a waste to get the Water Parks & More option on our passes, since Bill wasn’t able to do any waterslides, and even I hardly had any time to enjoy those parks. I’d really wanted to ride the new Crush ‘n Gusher at Typhoon Lagoon but the time just slipped away. I wondered if we hadn’t been on the Dining Plan, if we’d have had more time for stuff like that. Then again, we wouldn’t have eaten so many yummy and huge meals either.

I was very impressed with the Hilton timeshare, and Coronado Springs is very lovely, but I’d rather stick with the other Moderates if we were to go in that category again.

The reduction of menu choices at the restaurants was a much too obvious sign of cost cutting resort wide that bothered me tremendously. I’m not sure that it’ll improve, but a lot of people seem to feel the same way, so hopefully enough of us will complain and more variety and creativity will be reinstated.

Dates for the next trip are not yet set, but I’m always watching the special offers and airfares. DVC is still in the picture, but it’s going to have to wait until we sell our house and have some profit to use on “Fun” things like Disney.

Until then, thanks for reading!